Just Sayin’

6

Logo for Just SayinI first heard this expression from students in my English classes about twelve years ago. It would typically go something like this:

Me: Why did the man in [Jack London’s] “To Build a Fire” ignore the warnings against traveling during the cold snap?

Student: ‘Cuz he’s an idiot.

Me: That’s what you’d think, but there’s reason to believe he was actually very intelligent.

Student: I’m just sayin’.

I admit — it drove me a little nuts.

Me: Just saying? I know you were just saying! You clearly weren’t writing, or acting it out in mime, or communicating by mental telepathy! We were both just saying. I was saying a question, you were saying the answer, and I was saying it was incorrect. You were just saying something ignorant!

I’m pretty sure I never actually said these words out loud, but I sure thought them. I remember asking students what they meant when they said, just sayin’. All I got were shrugs. So, I shrugged it off myself. Another incomprehensible slang thing. It was just something kids said when they didn’t know what else to say.

But here we are, more than a decade later, and I’m still hearing it. Only now, I hear it all the time from adults and read it in publications. Yesterday I read a ranting political Facebook post that ended with “…either amend the Constitution or shut up and follow it. Just sayin’.”

It’s everywhere, but what does it mean? I know this tag-on expression (it always gets tacked on at the end of a statement) must have some kind of intended meaning. What’s odd is that I’ve never found anyone who uses the expression who can effectively explain it. They say it but don’t know what it means themselves. Yet they always mean something by it.

Interested in this linguistic phenomenon, I, of course, Googled it and found lots of help in an unofficial online  Urban Dictionary. This site welcomes submitted definitions and then allows readers to vote for their favorites. Here’s the top definition for just sayin‘:

Just sayin‘: a term coined to be used at the end of something insulting or offensive to take the heat off you when you say it.

For example:

Jordan: Anna you have really let yourself go.
Anna: What is your problem?!
Jordan: Just sayin’
Anna: Oh well in that case, I suppose it’s okay.
That’s not bad. In fact, I think that’s pretty darn close to what people mean when they use it. Sort of like saying, “I don’t mean anything really. It’s just these words that are coming out of my mouth from somewhere. I don’t even necessarily think this. I’m just saying it.” It’s all nonsense, of course. If you say it, you most likely mean it. But somehow adding a just sayin’ seems to absolve the speaker. At the very least, it indicates that the speaker wishes to be absolved. Maybe that’s good enough.

I think we can nuance the expression a little more though. Most users seem to be saying that they are simply stating objective truth that has little to do with them. It’s shorthand for “I’m just saying what is already known to be true. Don’t blame me.”

Yes. I think that’s it. Just sayin’ explained. If you disagree, feel free to offer alternative definitions in the comments. If you don’t, you’re a coward. Just sayin’.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Frederic Durbin
    Frederic Durbin10-05-2011

    I would agree with both of you, and I think that may be why users have trouble explaining it. Sometimes it expresses the speaker’s opinion or observation. Sometimes the speaker is implying that it’s obvious to the world, and that s/he is the one who happens to be voicing it. In either case, the “just” part is intended to absolve the speaker of any wrongdoing. “I didn’t create the situation, no one can blame me, and no one is obligated to agree with me.” I think it is a widespread attitude of the present culture we live in!

    The ambiguity (or flexibility?) of the expression reminds me of this one:

    “I’m like, ‘What?'” [or] “John was like, ‘I don’t think so!'”

    In these [granted, very informal] expressions for reporting reactions, the listener doesn’t know if I actually said “What?” or if John actually said “I don’t think so,” but John and I thought those things, and we may or may not have exhibited our reactions somehow.
    Isn’t language fun?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko10-08-2011

      Language IS fun! And thanks for the insight on like as a substitute for said. That’s exactly it! I remember doing the same thing when I was a teen back in the 80s. It used to bug my dad. But it was always more comfortable and natural to say, “John was like, ‘Wow; that’s amazing.” And I was like, ‘I know!'” I think it was and is the ambiguity of it. I didn’t exactly say, “I know.” Or maybe I did, it doesn’t matter. It’s a short-hand for “I said something like ‘I know.'” Thanks, Fred!

  2. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko10-04-2011

    I see the distinction. Thanks!

  3. Michael Ann
    Michael Ann10-04-2011

    I’ve always understood it to mean, “That’s my opinion or my observation. No offense intended.” As in, “I think grammar geeks are cool. Just sayin’.”

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko10-04-2011

      I see that, Michael Ann. Is that very different from my definitions? Seems pretty similar.

      • Michael Ann
        Michael Ann10-04-2011

        I’d say it’s quite different from your definitions! When I say, “Grammar geeks are cool,” I’m not declaring that as objective truth. I’m simply sharing how I feel about it. And I wouldn’t add a “just sayin'” to take the heat off myself. I’m old enough to stand confidently behind what I say! (Perhaps, then, I’m too old to be sayin’ “just sayin’!”)

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