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News & views

Just don’t know why they do it

[13 May 2013] Advertisers are fond of ‘only’ because they think the public has lost the power of independent thought: ‘Bag of toenail clippings: only £79.99’. And we are meant to say: ‘Gosh, what a bargain, sell me that bag now.’

‘Just’ is going the same way, with readers of some newspapers being regularly urged to gasp ‘What? Surely not?’ at some mundane revelation that has to be boosted by a phony ‘just’, eg:

‘Alice was just three years old when she began to recite Shakespeare’s 144th sonnet from memory.’

This use of ‘just’ is a common red-top cliché but the Guardian was at it on 30 April in a piece about the unconventional life of Edwardian garden designer Vita Sackville-West, who married Sir Harold Nicolson, a diplomat, in 1913:

‘Sackville-West also wrote extensively and the poem, found in her writing room at Sissinghurst as her library was being catalogued, was written just five years after her marriage, when her on-off affair with [Violet] Trefusis resumed.’

So – gasp – she managed to write a poem to her lover after a mere five years of wedded (or perhaps, in her case, weeded) bliss.

Using ‘just’ like this is like inviting a studio audience to ‘clap now’.

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