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Just is a pretty useful adverb. It can carry several different meanings:

  • very recently: I just finished the novel.
  • exactly: That’s just what he meant.
  • by a narrow margin: He just missed me with the snowball.
  • only: Bob was just a dishwasher until he met George Lucas.
  • quite or very: The weather is just beautiful.
  • directly: Just west of here.
  • perhaps or possibly: Your plan just might work.

(With thanks to Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster Online for these examples.)

There are also a variety of phrases using just, including just so and just about. I’m sure I haven’t covered everything here.

I’m curious about how we got all these adverbial senses of just. I checked the Online Etymology Dictionary for just and found this:

just (adv):

“merely, barely,” 1660s, from Middle English sense of “exactly, precisely, punctually” (c.1400), from just (adj.), and paralleling the adverbial use of French juste. Just-so story first attested 1902 in Kipling, from the expression just so “exactly that, in that very way” (1751).

How the heck did the adjective just spawn such diverse adverbial meanings?

  • 4
    This has been asked before; it's a reasonable question. 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 28 '14 at 22:39
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    A warning about using 'just' for the immediate past. In British English, this traditionally required the perfect tense: "I've just sent her a card" means I sent it a few minutes/hours ago. We're now more and more using the simple past as in US English [possibly driven by advertising slogans of the form "Our Xs just got ..."]. So in Britain, the slogan "Our pizzas just got bigger" is [technically] ambiguous. The advertiser means "Our pizzas have got bigger very recently", but could be taken to mean they've ONLY got bigger - not tastier, or cheaper, or ... – David Garner Dec 29 '14 at 13:08
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    @DavidGarner I believe that that ambiguity exists in all forms of English. – tchrist Dec 29 '14 at 13:30
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    @GreenRay. I up-voted your original, and your additional answers both , although I agree with you when you say that the latter 'added little' but only because - as you also observe - the original was sufficient in itself. I have a sense, though, that you put an exemplary amount of effort into formatting the second answer. I draw your attention to my earlier comment attached to the latest bounty: "It would certainly be wrong to assume that the posting of an additional 500 bounty on this question suggests any dissatisfaction with GreenRay's answer." Regards... – John Mack Nov 22 '15 at 20:09
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    The second (large) bounty is on the answer and not on the question, Darshan. He probably regretted witholding the first bounty, since at first the answer was rather shocking, contradicting all expectations, (after Lawler and his Chicago Society). This also explains the limited consensus. – user119278 Dec 4 '15 at 8:49
5
+625

You'll probably be disappointed, but the adverb does not have so many different meanings: words that express a general idea take (apparently) different meanings in different contexts.

Take for example long : it mean 'extended' and has a different meaning if you refer it to time or to space.

just expresses the general idea of

  • exactly/ neither more nor less,

"It is impossible to say just what I mean!" (T.S. Eliot) or, more loosely,

  • closely, and it may be referred to

space :

"...They had been standing just by the door..." (Thomas Hardy)

quantity:

  • a little more/less than or
    • not much more than (from which you get the impression it has changed meaning to only/ barely) :

"It is ridiculous to think you can spend your entire life with just one person" (The Observer), ( "Bob was just a dishwasher until he met George Lucas").

time:

  • then, or
    • a little earlier/ later than..

"Alice was just asking Noel... when she heard..." (E. Nesbit), "I think I have just swallowed..." (I. Murdoch), "Tell his excellency I am just a coming" (D. Defoe)

It is as simple as that!

(the examples are from SOED)

You've indicated three general meanings that might apply to some, but not all, of the more specific meanings I listed in the initial question (how to account for "possibly," "quite or very," and "directly"?). Also, I find it interesting that two of the general ideas you've indicated contradict each other: "neither more nor less" and "a little more or less." That's worth a question in and of itself. So, yeah, a little disappointed. – Rusty Tuba

I have indicated just one meaning, if you reflect just a bit, you'll see no contradiction between exactly (neither more nor less, quite,.. etc) and almost exactly (a little more/less... etc), it is only approximation, which is a natural feature of language. Bearing this in mind, you'll be able to clarify all other optical illusions. I didn't list all possibilities because it is not a closed list.

  • 2
    You've indicated three general meanings that might apply to some, but not all, of the more specific meanings I listed in the initial question (how to account for "possibly," "quite or very," and "directly"?). Also, I find it interesting that two of the general ideas you've indicated contradict each other: "neither more nor less" and "a little more or less." That's worth a question in and of itself. So, yeah, a little disappointed. :) – Rusty Tuba Nov 20 '15 at 14:51
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    Yes, perhaps with more reflection I will be able to fill in the blanks left by your answer and see that it is as simple as you say. And I will think especially carefully about the words you've italicized. – Rusty Tuba Nov 20 '15 at 15:04
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Firstly a quick journey back to roots...

'Just', in modern English usage meaning 'exactly or only', and 'closely or proximately in space, quantity or time', as EL&U member GreenRay points out.

from: French 'juste', meaning justly/fairly/righteously (OED) (Etymology Online - http://tinyurl.com/etymonline)

from: Old French 'juste' , meaning as above (Wiktionary - https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/juste)

from: Latin 'justus', an alternative version of the Latin 'iustus' (Wiktionary - (1) https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/juste - (2) https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/justus#Latin)

otherwise: Latin 'iustus' meaning just, righteous, lawful, legal, exact, straight direct. (Wiktionary - https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/iustus#Latin)

from: proto-Italic 'jowestus' meaning just, lawful (Wiktionary - http://tinyurl.com/jowestus)

from: proto Italic 'jowos' meaning oath, law (Wicktionary - http://tinyurl.com/jowos)

Note that the 'closely or proximate' meaning now included in the many senses of the word 'just' isn't reflected in the origins of the word, and seems to be quite at odds with the sense of 'exact' that is implied by the Latin root 'iustus'. The OED simply notes that the adverbial use of the French 'juste' included such meanings as 'exactly', 'precisely', 'verily', 'actually', and 'closely'. The meaning, closely seems somewhat at odds with the other senses of the French adverb. The question might be asked, did something happen to the word during its development in French?

It is quite feasible that a simple drift in the use of language accounted for the broadening of the sense of the word 'just' to incorporate 'close to' or 'almost'. However, the OED's entry for the word 'adjust' makes an interesting observation (noting that we will be coming back to the word 'just' after this small digression):

adjust adjust, v.
(əˈdʒʌst)
[a. 16th c. Fr. adjuste-r (now ajuster). The OFr. ajuster, ajoster, ajouster = It. aggiustare, aggiostare (:—late L. adjuxtāre), gave rise to a med.L. adjustare, which was naturally, though erroneously, taken as a derivative of ad + jūstus, and so consciously used. After Fr. ajouster became ajouter, so that its formal relationship to aggiustare and adjustare was lost sight of, a new Fr. adjuster was formed after the latter, and received those senses of ajouster, which seemed to approach to L. jūstus, Fr. juste. In It. and Sp. also the mod. sense of aggiustare, ajustar, has been influenced by association with jūstus. Thus mod.Fr. ajuster may be viewed as a refashioning or re-forming of OFr. ajouster:—adjuxtāre, after à+ juste. See also adjoust.]

So, according to the OED, at some point (16th century?) the French conflated the senses of the Latin word 'adjuxtāre' and the Latin word 'justus'. So what is 'adjuxtāre'? According to Wiktionary (http://tinyurl.com/adjuxtare) was derived from:

Latin adjuxtare, from Latin ad + juxta near to, nigh. Compare adjutage, adjustage, adjust. ajutage

If we follow the Latin 'juxta' we start to get meanings very similar to some of those non-exact senses of the French adverb 'juste' (http://tinyurl.com/nvbkk3d):

juxtā , adv. and prep. sup. form from jugis; v. jungo,
I.near to, nigh.
I. Adv.
A. Lit., of place.
1. Of several objects, near together, in close proximity
2. In gen., near at hand, near, near by, hard by, close to, by the side of
B. Transf., in like manner, equally, alike
9: just as if , = non secus ac si, Cic. post Red. ap. Sen. 8, 20: II. Prep., with acc., very near, close to, near to, hard by
A. Lit., of place
B. Transf.
1. Next to, immediately after, beside, on a par with
2. Near, approaching to, like, almost the same as

So the interesting speculation is whether the French might have roughly handled the word 'juste' in the same way they misattributed and re-fashioned their understanding of the word 'adjust' . Could the Latin meaning of 'juxta' (near to) have leaked into the French word 'juste' in the same way the the sense of 'justus' (exact, righteous) had leaked into the French word 'adjust' which was properly derived from the Latin adjuxtāre (near to) as attested by the OED?

We might thicken the soup by mentioning at this point that the English word 'joust' used to be written as 'just' and spoken to rhyme with the word 'must'. 'Joust' is derived from the Latin 'juxtā', as the OED has it:

joust, just, v.
(dʒaʊst, formerly dʒuːst, dʒʌst)
Forms: 3–7 iust(e, 4–7 ioust(e, (5 youst, yust, iowst, iost, 6 iuyst), 7– just, joust.
[a. OF. juste-r (11th c.), joster (12th c.), jouster (13th c.) = Pr. justar, jostar, Sp., Pg. justar, It. giostrare:—late pop.L. juxtāre to approach, come together, meet, f. juxtā near together. The sense ‘approach, join’, remained in OF.
The historical Eng. spelling from the 13th c. is just: cf. the cognate adjust:—L. adjuxtāre. Under later French influence, joust was used sometimes by Gower, Caxton, Spenser, and Milton, was preferred by Johnson, and used by Scott, and is now more frequent; but the pronunciation remained as in the historical spelling; the pronunciation (dʒaʊst) (formerly dʒuːst) is recent, and suggested by the spelling joust.]

So to sum it up, I believe that GreenRay is correct in the sense that most of the meanings can be summarised as 'exactly or only', or 'closely or proximately in space, quantity or time'. But the contradiction between these two senses, as Rusty Tuba has pointed out, is difficult to put aside without comment. How can the word 'just' mean 'exactly', but at the same time also being used to mean 'almost' or 'proximate'?

However, if words derived from the Latin 'justus' (exact) and from 'juxto' (proximate) have over the ages shared spellings and pronounciation - as indicated above - then there may have been even more instances of erroneous derivation and attribution and 'meanings influenced by association' than the OED has so far mentioned. Perhaps that massively polysemous (thank you John Lawler) word 'just' has also drawn some of its meaning from the Latin 'juxtā', in addition to the meaning it inherited from its proper root, the Latin 'iusta'.

3

If the OP is interested, for the sum of just $30 he can buy a copy of the following article by Jeffrey M. Kishner and Raymond W. Gibbs Jr:

How “Just” Gets Its Meanings: Polysemy and Context in Psychological Semantics

The adverb just is polysemous in having several related senses (e.g., It's just a cold; I just notice it at night; or I love cookies, just as you love cake). We present three studies looking at how readers determine the appropriate sense of just in context. The first study analyzed 871 naturalistic sentence contexts containing just, and revealed six senses for the adverb as well as some interesting patterns in which particular classes of words regularly followed particular senses of just.

Just a year ago, (Dec 28 '14), John Lawler commented: Just is massively polysemous in modern English, but all the meanings are related.

Let's look at how or why just come to mean ‘exactly’, ‘accurately’, and ‘precisely’.

Under the entry of just, p638, the OED lists an obsolete meaning of the noun (sb.= substantive). [Emphasis in bold mine]

Just, sb.2 Obs. Also iuste, iustye, ioust,
[OF. juste, juiste, juyste, ad. med. L. justa (sc.mensūra) right measure (of drink); the vessel holding this (Du Cange).] A large-bellied pot with handles used for holding wine or beer.

It cites this example

1387 Hym was ȝoven a iuste of gold, honoured wonderfully wiþ precious stones

In the poem Piers Plowman, written between 1370-90, the now-obsolete word was spelled iuyste

‘Y schal iangle to þis iurdan with his iuyste wombe

The expression iuyste wombe stands for ‘pot belly’, iurdan probably referred to a friar named William Jordan but was also Middle English for ‘chamber-pot’ thus Langland was making a joke: ‘You will chatter to this Jordan/chamber pot, he with the pot belly’ C.15.91 (source)

The author of A Dictionary of Weights and Measures for the British Isles says that the 13th century term for a type of pitcher was called a just, derived from the Latin justa/iūstus meaning just; right; legal and fair. The quantity of liquid a ‘just’ contained was 1½ gallons.

This explains the adverbial meanings of just: at that precise location or point; in the exact quantity, which the OED lists:

Just adv
1. Exactly, precisely; verily, actually; closely. Formerly often “even just”. Qualifying a prep., adv., or advb. phrase; or an adj., pron., or sb.

a. Of place or position. just at, in, over (etc.) the = at, in, over (etc.) the very. †just to, right up to, even to, as far as to; just to the, to the very.

  • ? a 1400 Morte Arth. 1123 “The gyaunt he hyttez, Iust to the genitales”
  • 1617 Moryson Itin. 160 “You have now hit me just where my paine lies.”
  • 1711 Steele Spect. No. 254 ⁋6 “A beautiful young Creature who sat just before me.”
  • 1749 Fielding Tom Jones vii. x, “Here is a very creditable, good house just by.”
  • 1884 Sir N. Lindley in Law Rep. 25 Chanc. Div. 319 “The case..appears to me to break down just at the critical point”

c. Of manner. just as = precisely in the way that, in the very way that. just so, (a) precisely in that way; exactly as has been said; (b) in the required or appropriate manner; (c) very close or friendly; (d) neatly and tidily;
[examples omitted]

  • 1735 Pope Ep. Lady 161 “She speaks, behaves, and acts just as she ought.”
  • 1891 E. Peacock N. Brendon I. 117, “I will do just as you advise.”
  • 1794 Massachusetts Spy 3 Sept. (Th.), “A few years ago, every body supposed that if people did not behave just so, they ought to be punished.”
  • 1969 E. Bishop Compl. Poems 198 “A raccoon..was the executioner. He was very fastidious and did everything just so.”

e. Of amount, number, or quantity: with a sb. or adj.

  • 1583 Stubbes Anat. Abus. ii. (1882) 38 “Such as..haue either iust nothing, or else very little at all.”
  • 1590 Shakespeare. Com. Err. iv. i. 7 “Euen iust the sum that I do owe to you.”
  • 1596 Shaks. Merch. V. iv. i. 326 “Nor cut thou lesse nor more But iust a pound of flesh.”
  • c 1717 Prior Epitaph 12 “They did just Nothing all the Day.”
  • 1883 Daily News 22 Sept. 4/5 “It is just a fortnight since Mr. Gladstone embarked.”

If the noun just stood for the right measure, the precise quantity of an alcoholic beverage, then over time, speakers would use the term just as an adverb to mean "no more no less"; precisely; exactly, and so on.

  1. No more than; only, merely; barely. Often preceded by but or only. a. qualifying a vb. or adj.

    • 1665 R. Hooke Microgr. vii. 38 “Distilled water, that is so cold that it just begins to freeze.”
    • 1810 Scott Lady of L. iii. ii, “The Western breeze Just kissed the lake, just stirred the trees.”
    • 1849 Macaulay Hist. Eng. ii. I. 157 “Men who..seemed to think that they had given an illustrious proof of loyalty by just stopping short of regicide.”
    • 1889 R. S. S. Baden-Powell Pigsticking 98 “Fissures just wide enough to admit a horse's leg.”

Since it was so difficult to measure anything with accuracy, medieval Europe became obsessed with the laws governing weights and measurements. During this period, one of the most common infractions was the use of ale pitchers that were too small. Beer was sold in public houses and alewives were fined on almost a daily basis for claiming one volume while actually selling a smaller one.

Until the eighteenth century, it was very difficult to measure the capacity of a container accurately in cubic units, so the standard containers were defined by specifying the weight of a particular substance, such as wheat or beer, that they could carry. Thus the gallon was originally the volume of eight pounds of wheat. This custom led to a multiplicity of units, as different commodities were carried in containers of slightly different sizes.

I offer these examples of medieval English pottery containers for decanting and serving wine or beer.

A enter image description here B enter image description here

  1. Height: 170mm; Date: 10th-12th century
  2. Height: 160mm; Date: Late 11th - mid 12th century

C enter image description here D enter image description here

  1. Height: 338 mm; Diameter (girth) 184 mm; Date: late 13th-mid 14th century?
  2. Height: 215 mm; Diameter: 185 mm; Date: late 13th-mid 14th century

Source: Pitchers and Jugs from Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture; English Customary Weights and Measures; All Things Medieval

  • 1
    Talking of subscriptions, @JohnLawler mentioned a paper titled, "How did the English word just acquire its different meanings?", by Gerald Cohen. This led me to an article about Cohen: tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/130955/…. Cohen's newsletter, 'Comments on Etymology' (chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/02/24/…) appears to be highly recommended. Contact details are here: people.mst.edu/faculty/gcohen/index.html. – John Mack Nov 16 '15 at 22:32
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    I am working on an answer, although having discovered there's a limitation of 30,000 characters imposed by Stack Exchange, I have a fair bit of trimming down to do before I'm done. Something traversing the words jousting, juxtaposition, justice, jugular and oxen-yokes. But the iuyste in Piers Plowman is a very curious part of the puzzle. See also this reference in an early apothecary text: preview.tinyurl.com/pddzz9p (Manuscripts Containing Middle English Prose in Yorkshire Libraries and Archives, by O. S. Pickering, Susan Powell) – John Mack Nov 17 '15 at 2:48
  • Please go ahead, I am curious where it might lead. Or in the local vernacular, 'Knock yourself out'. – John Mack Nov 17 '15 at 23:30
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The word "just" can be considered literal (and immediate), as noted in the etymological citation ("exactly, precisely, punctually"). Let's try that in your examples (asterisks are explained later):

  • very recently: I literally* finished the novel.
  • exactly: That’s literally what he meant.
  • by a narrow margin: He literally* missed me with the snowball.
  • only: Bob was literally a dishwasher until he met George Lucas.
  • quite or very: The weather is literally beautiful.
  • directly: Literally west of here.
  • perhaps or possibly: Your plan literally might work.

The narrow margin definition is a bit more complicated because to have "just missed" is really[citation needed] a shortened version of to have "just barely missed," in which case you could have "literally barely missed."

For very recently, the key is that the action was in the past, as in "just finished," the literal item is the past. "Just" means exact and precise, so it could be explained as "just recently finished" which can then become "literally recently finished" or "precisely recently finished" which connotes that the event happened just a moment ago (or, if you prefer, "literally a moment ago").

Distinguishing between "just [barely] missed" and "just [recently] finished" may be complicated in some cases, but they're also somewhat interchangeable; "you're looking for Bob? You just barely missed him" could as easily end with "you just recently missed him" and have the same meaning. In other cases, it's not ambiguous at all; throwing a snowball isn't typically discussed in time-sensitive context – when it is, there's motion involved (e.g. the target is moving) and it was likely still a near miss.

(I preferred the look/sound of "literal" even though it sometimes means "figurative" these days; feel free to read that as "exactly" or "precisely" instead, it should have the same effect.)

0

just

as an adverb, is first recorded in XV century, (with meanings that are now long obsolete), in the Latin form iust[e], which is conserved (for all meanings) through centuries :

  • c1440 (▸?a1400) Morte Arthure l. 1123 (MED)): The gyaunt he hyttez Iust to þe genitates [read genitales] and jaggede þam in sondre
  • 1560 (J. Daus tr. J. Sleidane Commentaries f. cclxxxvij): There was also a chapel iust by, wherin were burning innumerable Tapers.
  • 1617 (F. Moryson Itinerary i. ii. iii. 160): You haue now hit me iust where my paine lies.

OED records the current form in XVII century:

  • 1651 (T. Vaughan Lumen de Lumine 20): It is just thus with the common Astrologer.
  • 1665 (R. Hooke Micrographia v. 9): They double all the Stuff that is to be water'd, that is, they crease it just through the middle of it.

The adjective's etymon is classical Latin iūstus = lawful, legitimate, rightful, proper, correct, from iūs = right, law, justice (+ -tus, suffix forming adjectives). The original meaning is conserved in Romance Languages such as French juste, Old Occitan and Catalan just (12th cent.), Spanish and Portuguese justo (13th cent.), Italian giusto (a1294); and also in Dutch juist (Middle Dutch juust) from French, and, of course in English un/ just

The first occurrence of the word iust (as an adjective) with the original sense is in XIV century:

  • ▸c1384 (Bible (Wycliffite, E.V.) (Douce 369(2)) (1850) Philipp. i. 7): It is iust [L. iustum] to me for to feele this thing for alle ȝou, for that I haue ȝou in herte.

The meaning of the adverb is from the very beginning: very closely, [almost] exactly , and here is the detailed chronological development of the various usages as recorded by OED. You can easily see that no important information is added to my previous answer:

  • †1. a. In an exact or accurate manner; so as to correspond exactly; with precision; accurately; punctually; correctly. (Obs. 1417—1743), b. So as to fit exactly; in a close-fitting way; closely, tightly. ( Obs. 1486—1804)
    1. As a modifier: exactly, precisely; actually; very closely.
      • a. Of place or position, modifying prepositional phrases and adverbs.(1440—2009)
      • b. Of degree and comparison, modifying as or so with adjectives, adverbs, or quantifiers: equally or quite as. (1551—2002)
      • c. Of manner, modifying prepositional phrases, adverbs, and conjunctions, esp. as, like. Also of reason or purpose, modifying prepositional phrases and conjunctions. Cfr. "just like mother makes" (1565—2010)
      • d. Of amount, number, or quantity, modifying nouns, pronouns, and quantifiers. (1568—2003)
      • e. Of time, modifying prepositional phrases, adverbs, and temporal clauses. Cfr: "just now". (?1571—2005)
      • f. Of state, identity, or similarity, or of opposition or antithesis.
      • Modifying prepositional phrases, nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Cfr: "just it", "just my luck. (1593—2004)
      • Modifying noun phrases with "the" . (for colloq. phrases with sense ‘the desirable, etc. thing’, as "just the job/ thing/ ticket ..", see the noun.) Cfr: "just the same". (1616—1998)
      • Modifying interrogative pronouns and adverbs introducing a subject or object clause. (1665—2011)
      • g. In negative contexts in preceding uses of sense 2. (1631—2006)
    1. Indicating a point in time.
      • a. Exactly, or almost exactly, at or after this or that moment; (formerly also) †immediately, very shortly afterwards, very soon. Now chiefly with progressive tenses: in the process or on the point of (doing something).Cfr: "to be just going to", "just now". (1500—2001)
      • (a1) Of state or condition: on the point of being, very nearly. (Now regional and rare). (1860—1902)
      • b. Exactly, or almost exactly, before this or that moment; very recently, in the immediate past; with little preceding interval; within a brief preceding period. Cfr: "just off the boat". (1605—2011) )
  • (†4. In replies and expressions of assent: = just so , also even just. (Obs. 1529—1798)

    1. Limiting the extent or degree denoted by an expression: only as much as, not much more or less than; barely, by a little, by a slight margin. Sometimes preceded by only/(in early use) but. In early uses not always readily distinguishable from sense 2.
      • a. Modifying prepositional phrases and adverbs, expressing place and time. (1600—2010)
      • b. Modifying noun phrases or pronouns, expressing number or quantity. (1603—1997)
      • c. Modifying verbs or adjectives. Now freq. as an intensifier of may or might. (1627—2012)
    1. Used to place the focus on a particular word or phrase.
      • a. No less than; absolutely; actually, positively, really. In weakened sense: neither more nor less than, no other than; simply, merely.
      • Modifying noun phrases, Cfr: "just one of those things", "to be [more than] just a pretty face". (1668—2006)
      • Modifying adverbial clauses or phrases. Cfr: "just for the hell of it". (1675—2004)
      • Modifying adjectives or verbs. Cfr:"it's just not on", "it just goes to show", "it just shows". (1687—2011)
      • In correlative constructions using not just, with contrast expressed by but/ but also. (1858—2011)
      • b. (colloq.) Used to emphasize the action expressed by a verb in exhortations, instructions, threats, exclamations, etc. Cfr: "wouldn't you just know it?", "just think!". (1675—2004)
      • c. Used to weaken the force of the action expressed by a verb, and so to represent it as unimportant. (Often with connotations of immediacy cf. sense 3a). (1682—1995)
      • d. (colloq. chiefly Brit.). Used parenthetically to strengthen an assertion, a response, or (now usu.) a rhetorical question (usu. a negative one): certainly, definitely, indeed. (1838—2010)

Phrases: just now - a. Only a very short time ago. (1591—2000), ( b. Directly, immediately, very soon. Now chiefly Eng. regional and S. Afr. (1606—2011)), c. Exactly at this point of time; at this moment; right now. (?1615—2005)

The Anglo-Saxon equivalent right was used since early OE (ri[h]ht) with the meaning of 'exactly/ thoroughly':

  • (c1405 (▸c1387–95) Chaucer Canterbury Tales Prol. (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 804,): " I wol my self goodly wit yow ryde Right at myn owene cost. ", but now it is considered colloquial:
  • (1900 Rep. Sel. Com. War Office Contracts 279 in Parl. Papers IX) "The quality is right the same throughout". (2008 L. Griffin Thread of Fear 146): ‘And John is..?’ ‘Jack's daddy. Cotton farmer. He was a hardworking, hardheaded SOB, and Jack takes right after him.’

It can substitute just in many contexts expecially modifying adverbs and prepositional phrases expressing time/ place:

  • right now/then, right before/ after...
    • (?c1200 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) l. 11046): Iesu crist wass fullhtnedd. Rihht o þatt daȝȝ upp o þe ȝer Þatt twellfte daȝȝ iss nemmnedd.
    • (1996 T. Parker Violence of our Lives iii. 115): After that she'd turn again, and be a sex kitten sort of femme fatale who wanted to make love right there and then on the floor.
  • right here/there, right before/ after/ in the middle/ opposite...
    • (eOE tr. Orosius Hist. (BL Add.) i. i. 12): Ryhte be eastan him [sc. the Bavarians] sindon Bæme.
    • (a1425 (▸?a1400) Chaucer Romaunt Rose (Hunterian) (1891) l. 3076): Ryght nygh the bothom [read botoun] pullede he A leef all grene.
    • (1535 Bible (Coverdale) Josh. viii. C,): He made haist..to mete Israel..euen righte before the felde.
    • (1645 Milton L'Allegro in Poems 33): Right against the Eastern gate, Wher the great Sun begins his state.
    • (1991 Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey) 8 Dec. v. 12/3): We had to run right at them.

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