This isn’t my usual etymological Word Wednesday post, but is a post about a word and it is Wednesday, and I created Word Wednesday and am free to switch it up as I choose. 🙂 I am an introvert, though I can play the part of an extrovert when needed. At my core, I am happiest when alone. I tend to think up witty retorts far better on paper (or on screen) than in conversation. Which is really why I’m writing this post. Last week, I had a conversation with an acquaintance who asked what I did for a living. I told her I worked with kids who have autism but that my primary source of income is my writing and editing business. “Oh, you’re just a writer” she replied “that’s the usual fallback for people who don’t know what they’re good at right? Because everybody can write”. I smiled politely, because by the time I’d processed the fact that she’d just completely dismissed my craft, she was already prattling on about some other subject. Having had a few days to stew on the matter, here’s my response.
I’m not “just” anything. The word just when used as a modifier is awful. It diminishes and belittles the subject. Nobody is only one thing, nor can anyone be defined by one attribute. It seems that the word seems to be applied to those of us in the creative class more than those who have chosen more traditional or prestigious careers. I have heard friends referred to as “just graphic designers” as if being a graphic designer required no talent – a fact which I know not to be true. I’ve never heard a surgeon referred to as “just a surgeon” so why is it okay to call someone “just a housewife” or “just a writer”? It’s not. Yes, I realize surgeons do intensive years of schooling and work experience but that doesn’t necessarily equate to their job being better or more valuable to society. Without writers, who would have written the textbooks that the surgeon studied from? That’s not to say that writing is more important than any other career; in my mind, whatever job a person does, is important. What I don’t like is when people diminish themselves or others by saying another person’s work is “just x” or that they are “just a y”. We are all more than we appear, and we are all valuable.
Which brings me to the part of the statement from my acquaintance that really gets my proverbial goat. “Because everybody can write”. My years of being a graduate teaching assistant tells me that no, not everyone can write. Despite the literacy test implemented for grade 10 students over fifteen years ago, many people cannot craft a strong sentence or write a post that is coherent and clear. Which is where my talents come in to play. Whether it is writing things from scratch or making someone else’s words shine, I have a way with words and the knowledge of how they work best together. I am a lot of things but “just” anything isn’t one of them.
So, the next time you are tempted to use the word “just” to describe someone else’s career / life choices / belief system stop, and choose a word that affirms their choice, not one that makes them feel inferior. It’s not up to you to put a value on their career choice, and this may come as a shock to you but the other person most likely doesn’t really care what you think anyway. I know I don’t.