2

I know that there are similar questions, but I'd like to know what's the "preferred" meaning of "just" in a specific sentence in this context.

I was watching a GTA V movie, called "Meltdown". In a given scene, the protagonist's tutor turns to be his enemy; he wants to "destroy honest capitalism" and he's using a laptop to perform the action. Then he presses a key and says, with an evil laugh: "I just pressed this button and now tense music is playing" (and tense music starts to play in the movie). Later, the protagonist and his friend pursue the guy to stop his evil plans.

I tried to translate the movie for my mother, and when "I just pressed this button and now tense music is playing" showed up, I couldn't decide if it was something like "I pressed this button a few moments ago and now tense music is playing" or "I only pressed this button and look what happened, tense music is playing".

Taking in account that the movie is a spoof of Wall Street themed movies, and the context given, what's the most probable meaning? Was he trying to be ambiguous on purpose?

It may seem silly, but it's something that made me think a lot about ambiguity in English and can't get out of my mind.

  • I think it's only an ambiguity in "pretend" language (i.e. - the written form). In real spoken English, your protagonist's tutor would put more stress on just pressed if he intended the "merely" sense. For the "a moment ago" sense, the two words would have equal stress (or there'd be more on the first word, or just pressed). – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '14 at 13:23
  • 1
    Just is massively polysemous in modern English, but all the meanings are related. A very good paper on the subject is Gerald Cohen's "How did the English word just acquire its different meanings?", in Papers from the Fifth Regional Meeting, Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS 5) 1969, pp 25-29. – John Lawler Dec 17 '14 at 16:18
1

In this context, 'just' appears to mean 'only', which is by far the most common usage of the word in English today.

It can also mean:

  • very recently (often clarified by saying 'just now'), which was your ambiguous meaning
  • legally or morally correct (for example, in the phrase 'a just and wise decision')

In spoken English, you can often convey the intended meaning using emphasis: - when we mean 'very recently', we tend to put stress on the word 'just' - when we mean 'only', we tend to stress the verb after 'just'

  • 2
    Your evidence for making the italicised assertion " ... 'just' appears to mean 'only', which is by far the most common usage of the word in English today." would be? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 '14 at 19:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.