Way back when, my high school English teacher, Mrs. Skoog, told my all-women’s class to stop qualifying our speech and our writing with the word “just.” Along with teaching us the proper way to use a semicolon and how to write a thesis paragraph, Mrs. Skoog encouraged us to read female authors and to say and write what we meant with confidence and authority—the way men did.
Her words of wisdom stuck with me, and while I recall Mrs. Skoog every time I hear myself say “just”—a word that “shrinks your power,” according to women’s leadership expert Tara Mohr—I also know it’s rather difficult to break the habit.
Enter Chrome extension Just Not Sorry, a Gmail plug-in that warns you when you use words such as “just,” “I’m sorry,” “I think,” “Does that make sense?” “I’m no expert,” and “actually”—words or phrases that serve to undermine your authority and discredit your skills and knowledge. They are softening words, and while you rely on them to sound like a team player, what you’re
actually doing is dampening your voice and expertise.
Recently, Slate writer Christina Cauterucci, skeptical of the app because of the way it purports to tell women that they’ve been speaking and writing incorrectly, spoke with Tami Reiss, one of the founders, about the plug-in. Reiss, who believes that women subconsciously use words that ultimately work against them professionally, has made it her new year’s resolution to clean up her email and get rid of the offensive language peppering her paragraphs. She says that by checking in on the tendency to pad words, ideas, and even questions, women will “sharpen their self-awareness to address workplace bias.”
The hope is greater equality in the workplace and stronger, more confident women. While I downloaded it with just as much skepticism as Cauterucci, I did notice a lot of red underlining in my emails—which goes to show that I’m guilty of using these words more than I realized. And while I think some softening language is sometimes needed, I’d prefer to sound in control and definitive and have my words matter—rather than sound soft and sweet, careful of not coming across as demanding.