The word “just” alters in meaning greatly in English. Primarily, it means “fair,” especially when dealing with an ethical decision or legal ruling. This comes from its origins in Latin, iustus, which had various senses and uses of “just,” “lawful,” or “true.” It all derives from the Latin root ius, meaning “law” or “right.”
These days, just can also mean “without deliberation,” as in the Nike slogan to “Just do it,” or the “Just say no (to drugs)” campaign. In both these cases, it infers implicitly to not think too long do the right thing.
You can also use it to show how you barely achieved a goal, or that something happened in the recent past, “He just finished his assignment by the deadline,” or “I just saw a ghost!” It also can mean to discount or minimize something, “He’s just a jerk,” or “I just need a moment of your time,” or, of course, said with a shrug, “Just sayin’.”
There is a drawback, however. Many people use the word far too frequently, even apologetically, in their language. For instance, “I just need a moment of your time,” may seem polite, even self-deprecating. Similar expressions, “I just need to step out for a moment,” or “I just wanted to get your opinion,” likewise add to the tone. Over time, it leaves the impression of being far too mousy, humbling the requester in regards to the person they are addressing.
In fact, business strategist Ellen Petry Leanse suggests to do with far less use of the word “just” in such usage. She believes it damages credibility and confidence in a work environment. You don’t need to “just make a request.” Make a request. It’s stronger language. More confident. Clearer.
Speaking of clarity, often an expression with “just” can just… well… dangle ambiguously. “He’s just so…” or “She’s just…,” or “It’s just…” are often left unexpressed, for a variety of reasons. There may be logical thoughts or emotional feelings that conflict or are difficult to describe. The listener may be able to intuit partly or understand deeply how the speaker feels, even if the situation is not expressly clarified.
Whether you like it or not, this word is everywhere in modern English. If you’d like to know more about this expression to better localize your dialogue to vernacular English, just watch this YouTube video from Go Natural English!