Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Just Sayin'" is Just Awful

My least favorite phrase in current pop parlance is “just sayin’.” Oh, okay. Is that all you’re doing? Just saying? Not thinking or meaning? Just saying? Got it.

 The phrase’s most common invocation is when its author has run into the butt end of his own argument and cannot complete his own thought. “If you allow gay marriage you might as well allow polygamy, incest and bestiality you know, just sayin’…” It is lazy, surrendering language that lets the listener know the speaker doesn’t care what he himself thinks and it is therefore unlikely he cares what the listener thinks.

Just sayin’ has insinuated itself into daily speech as well as Internet communication, more in Facebook posts than in Twitter Tweets, as when properly punctuated, “just sayin’” eats up 11 precious characters, though I’m sure the apostrophe is optional and an even more austere abbreviation is somewhere in the Twitter ether.

My initial strategy in ridding the American conversation of this conversational cheap shot was to carry a knife everywhere I go and when someone says, “Just sayin’,” to stab them repeatedly in the chest. Then as the blood is flying around the room and the life is ebbing away from the eyes of the offender, when he says, “Why are you stabbing me?” I say, “Just stabbin’. No big, just stabbin’.” I haven’t actually done it because that would be extreme.

As a humble student of the adjoined crafts of good writing and speaking, the implications of “just sayin’” are offensive to me.  The chief attribute that distinguishes man from animals is language. Only man among all living things can write poetry, codify society through law and express emotion in exacting detail with words. “Just sayin’” cedes the one thing about humans that make them more compelling than a really good cat.

The word “just” is a reductive qualifier in the phrase “just sayin’,” one that impugns human expression through its most capable tool, language. It is a placeholder for “only” or “merely,” or a number of other self-prostrating adverbs, but with more cowardly and apologetic undertones than any of them. To apologize for expressing an opinion in the same sentence that expresses it indicates that perhaps the opinion should be kept to oneself in the first place, or at least until it takes shape more clearly.

“Just sayin’” is a passive-aggressive linguistic back door through which people can slink when their own self-loathing is too great for them to back up their own statements. It is also sometimes used to deflect blame for any hurt the speaker has caused the listener. “Just sayin’” is the less responsible cousin of “no offense, but...” though what it has morphed into has lost all of the initial scant bravura of its origins.

Had the English language’s greatest orators fallen prey to its coddling allure, would we still feel the same way about the immortal words of Doctor Martin Luther King? “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. Just sayin’.” Or Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Just sayin’.” Or William Wallace: “And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom! Just sayin’!!!"

Imagine yourself on trial for a murder you didn’t commit, and the one man who can corroborate your alibi takes the stand. The clerk has him put his right hand on the Bible and says, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” You do not want the man to respond with “Just sayin’.”

The speaker of this flaccid phrase “just sayin’” is in my mind’s eye as I write, blushing, his eyes cast downward, kicking the side of one shoe with the toe of the other, hands clasped behind the back and deep down believing that he is a worthless pile of crocodile crap whose frail and puny observations are so trite, paraphrased, and redundant to even the most rudimentary levels of conventional wisdom that they barely deserve consideration.

I do not mean to present myself as some kind of pinched-nose school marm with John Lennon glasses and a face like a rumpled Kleenex, sneering over a book report and ready to break a child’s knuckles with a ruler over a dangling preposition or split infinitive. Though in truth, I am one. In this essay I am focusing on popular usage of a particular phrase whose continued use effects a slow and insidious nullification of all that I hold dear.

But please, feel free to continue to use “just sayin’.” The primary reason it awakens within the deepest reaches of my soul a hundred flocks of bloody-eyed demons that feed upon the hopeful hearts of young girls and drink the tears of infants is that I one day found it to be among my own arsenal of verbal ticks. It is in a song I wrote. I had said it easily ten times before I realized the stultifying anti-intellectualism I was implicitly condoning with each utterance.

The last time I said it is a moment I will never forget. I can see it so clearly, like it was yesterday. I was with friends, my book club was meeting outside and the sun was shining. It was a Tuesday, definitely a Tuesday. I was taking the devil’s advocacy position in a discussion of Jonathan Livingston Seagull in arguing that the gulls that participated in society were happier than Jonathan, and that’s when I said it. Following a particularly ineloquent and half-hearted expostulation of the case for conformity, I said, “Just sayin’.”

The words tasted like tainted oysters sliding off of my tongue and they hung in the air in front of my book club alongside a stupid grin and maybe even a shoulder shrug, obliterating any chance I may have had for inspiring lit-worship from the rest of the class. I’m not sure about the shoulder shrug. I have tried to block out as many details as I can.

To those few “just sayin’” users and enthusiasts who have continued to read this far, please understand that I am among the guilty. I am one of you, but I have learned, and you can too. For the love of all that is holy, at least think about it. Before you say “just sayin’,” before you blurt it out for the whole world to hear, ask yourself if that is the best way you can express how you feel and what you mean. Then if you still want to say “just sayin’,” go right ahead. Hopefully no one within earshot will be “just stabbin’.”