I Am Just About To Kick Your Butt, That's What

This morning, Sean and I drove to work, which is a little luxury we afford ourselves about once a week. The rest of the time, we cram into the crowded MUNI train like everyone else and breathe in other people's sweat and aftershave and debilitating sense of ennui while standing pressed up against strangers in a way that's weirdly intimate because at what other time in your day-to-day life is your butt ever touching someone else's butt, you know? Wait, maybe don't answer that.

Anyway, today we drove and we parked at a lot near my office which is a bargain because it's only $10 a day. Everyone else in the country just fell over from shock and outrage at paying $10 a day to park, but I see you San Franciscans and New Yorkers back there: you're nodding your heads like TEN BUCKS? Right in the middle of downtown? Draw me a map to this lot!

One of the reasons this lot is only $10 a day--I am speculating, anyway; I have not written a lengthy dissertation on the best practices for running an inner-city parking lot or anything---is that they cram the cars in there like....well, hey, like people on MUNI, all pressed up against each other with their butts touching a stranger's butt. This means you often have to park very, very close to the car next to you, giving you only the narrowest gap in which to sliver out.

This morning, we parked especially close to the car next to us.

"Can you get out?" asked Sean.

"Hmm," I said, weighing the tiny space through which I would need to squeeze against the fact that I'd eaten a disproportionately large number of birthday cupcakes in the last two days, and deciding that I could probably do it. "Just about."

"No?" said Sean. "I can move a little."

"No, just about," I said. "I can just about do it."

"Uh, 'just about' means you can't do it," said Sean. "'Just about' means you can almost do something but you can't quite do it."

"What are you talking about?" I said. "'Just about' means you can just about do it, which means you can do it, but only just."

"You are wrong," said Sean.

"You are wrong," said I.

We don't disagree on too much, me and Sean: whether a mango is orange or yellow, perhaps, or whether or not it's normal to watch ESPN 24 hours a day. (Yellow. And no.) But we could not agree on this. We kept arguing about it all day, and the thing is, I am really, really convinced that I'm right. I mean, if you can just about reach something, you can reach it, right? If you can just about see something, you can see it, right? It's not easy, sure, but you can just about do it.

Am I wrong? Am I crazy? Is this a British/American thing like when I insisted a co-worker had "got the wrong end of the stick" and all my other co-workers looked at me bemusedly like I'd said something a little dirty? (It's a phrase! I promise!)

Filed Under:
1
Sharon
Feb 10, 2011

You're not crazy, but I do have to agree with Sean. He's right, and his explanation is the proper meaning of "just about." I'm sure there's a phrase that sums up what you're trying to say, but I can't think of the right way to explain it at this hour. He wins this argument.

2
A Little Coffee
Feb 10, 2011

Sorry girl, I'm gonna have to go with Sean on this one. Just about means you can almost do it, but not quite.

3
A Little Coffee
Feb 10, 2011

Oh but I am totally with you on getting the wrong end of the stick. But then my mother is British, so I grew up with all sorts of British expressions that I never realized were weird. I'm pretty sure I've used that one in mixed company before without getting any raised eyebrows though.

4
melanie jennifer
Feb 10, 2011

I asked my husband and he agrees with Sean on this. I however completely agree with you and would have said the exact same thing.

5
Hairy Farmer Family
Feb 11, 2011

Hmmm. Evidently a British/American language quirk.

That, if one can 'just about' manage something, means that one CAN in fact, accomplish said task... well. Yes! It does not admit of argument! Sorry, Sean.

Although, you ARE living in the States, where 'just about' is obviously Meant Differently, so you may have to claim diplomatic immunity for the phrase, or similar.

6
anna
Feb 11, 2011

I totally agree with you. But I'm British too.

7
Rach
Feb 11, 2011

I'm with you on this Holly. Just about means you can do it, but just not easily e.g. squeezing out of the car, reaching for a jar on a high shelf etc etc. Maybe it is a British thing though judging from the majority response? (hi,fellow Brit here!)

8
LauraVW
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you, 100%. But then I am writing this from my kitchen, in the very heart of England. So yes, perhaps it's a British thing. But that still doesn't mean that you're wrong.

9
Nia
Feb 11, 2011

I'm with you on this one - BUT I am not a native speaker so I don't really count. However, I did go and look it up, and the synonym for "just about" is "almost" - and that means Sean is right ... Meh.

10
Emma
Feb 11, 2011

Completely with you here, Holly - though looking at the responses maybe it's a British thing? I would never think it meant you couldn't do something....hmm...

11
Roze
Feb 11, 2011

I'm with you, Holly, but after seeing the poll results, I must be crazy, too.

(After reading the other comments, I should also point out I'm an island girl and didn't grow up in the States or England. Maybe it's a U.S. thing?)

12
Laura
Feb 11, 2011

Holly, I think you're the bee's knees, I really do. But you are wrong about this. I am shaking my head sadly as I type this. "Just about" means the same as "almost". I'm terribly sorry. But I'm with you on the mango color and ESPN and anything else, I'm sure!

13
Roze
Feb 11, 2011

I'm with you on this, Holly, but after seeing the poll results, I must be crazy, too.

(After reading the other comments, I should also point out I'm an island girl and didn't grow up in the States or England. Maybe it's a U.S. thing?)

14
Clemency
Feb 11, 2011

This is possibly a British thing, says me typing from her desk in Bristol.

Just about means you can just do something. Like, if you were parked another inch closer, you wouldn't be able to get out. But you aren't, so you can. It means you very nearly can't do something. Not that you can't.

15
Isobel
Feb 11, 2011

Completely agree, Holly - if I can just about reach something, I'll be standing on the tips of my toes and reaching enough to dislocate my arm, but I'll reach it! If I almost can but can't, then I'd say 'not quite', not 'just about'!

But then, I'm English too.

16
Clare
Feb 11, 2011

Yep, another English person here sticking up for you Holly - you are totally right. 'Just about' means that you can do it, but only just. 'Not quite' would mean what Sean said.

We are right, and everyone else is wrong.

17
Helen
Feb 11, 2011

Also typing from a desk in Bristol, I'm totally with you. "Just about" means you can do it - it's a struggle, but you ultimately succeed. Another example of the subtle but important differences between British English and American English!

18
Leanne
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you Holly, but I'm a Brit as well. 'Just about' definitely means you can do it.

19
Lindsey
Feb 11, 2011

I'm with you, Holly! "Just about" means you can, just barely, do it. And I'm NOT British. Born and raised in the American Midwest. Also--I do not think it's insane to pay $10/day for parking. I've seen much worse! Probably not as high as you typically see, but I encounter many lots with that price. My sister and I were once back in the small city we grew up in, driving around looking for a parking spot at the farmer's market. All the locals were parking blocks and blocks away to enjoy free spots, but NO ONE was parking in the immediately adjacent $1 lot. Meanwhile, we were freaking out to have found insanely close parking for that cheap.

I also say "got the wrong end of the stick." Maybe my brain is British?

20
Sara
Feb 11, 2011

Truly, I adore you and your clever writing. But I have to go with your husband on this. Think of the phrases "I'm just about there," and "I'm just about ready." Both mean you are almost, but not quite, to the place or state you'd like to be. I'm sure you are absolutely, positively, emphatically right about everything else, though!

21
Vicki
Feb 11, 2011

Another British vote for you here Holly, if I can just about do it, well it'll be a struggle but I'll manage it.
Also, if that $10 all day parking lot is anywhere near the Joie de Vivre Hotel Carlton in Nob Hill, then we used it exclusively last October when we were on holiday in SF after hyperventilating at the price of all the other car-parks we'd seen!

22
ladyloo
Feb 11, 2011

"Just about" means you can not actually do something. But "wrong end of the stick" is totally a phrase. At least in Canada.

23
karen
Feb 11, 2011

Speaking as a non-Brit, i have to say that Sean wins. "Just about" totally means that you can nearly do it, but not quite.

On the other hand, "The wrong end of the stick" is entirely a real phrase. So you win that.

24
Starla
Feb 11, 2011

As another Brit, you are totally right. Just about means, you know, you can just about DO IT!

Happy birthday week/weekend!

25
Cathy
Feb 11, 2011

I voted for Sean but I hated doing it so I hope that that makes up for it somehow!?!??! I agree that a mango is yellow, people should NOT watch 24 hours of ESPN a day, and I do use "got the wrong end of the stick" but I imagine saying I can "just about reach something" and then someone lifts me a little bit more because they know that I'm oh so close but just not quite able on my own. I really feel guilty about this because no one wants to go looking for solidarity and be told that their significant other is right. He's not right, just American. :o)

26
Karen
Feb 11, 2011

No no. Just about = not quite. I'm "just about to" brush my teeth means I have not yet committed the act of dental hygiene.

Just barely = I did it. I just barely brushed my teeth: I have run a few bristles over my choppers but I didn't do a good job.

27
Karen
Feb 11, 2011

Oops, chompers, not choppers. Grrrrr iPhone.

But wrong end of the stick: this American knows it, if not uses it much.

28
Kate
Feb 11, 2011

I wanted to vote - truely I did. But then I realized I use the phrase in both contexts. Often when speaking about my son and relating something he's not quite ready for I'll tell my husband "He's just about there, but not quite."

But at the same time, I know there have been instances at work where when I've been asked if I can finish something on time, I'll indicate "just about."

Though now that I'm really considering how people use it, I'm inclined to agree with Sean. If someone asked you if you are finished something, and you say "just about", you're not finished. ALMOST finished, but not quite.

29
Fiona
Feb 11, 2011

When I say I can "just about reach it" it's usually said as I'm standing on tip toes, stretching for all I'm worth and hitting it with the tips of my fingers and it's said in a stretched voice. So yes, it means you can reach it, maybe not enough to grab it, but you can reach it.
Just about as pertains to squeezing through small spaces? Means you can do it, with a lot of sucking in and wriggling.

It's all about context. (Daughter of a Brit)

30
naomi
Feb 11, 2011

It's a British thing, it means you can barely do it. The word "just" alone means "barely" so you can barely do it! I'm married to an American though and he disagrees. Fancy that.

31
Joanna
Feb 11, 2011

Wow. I'm flabbergasted by this argument. And the fact that we (you and anyone who agrees with you, like me) are losing the poll. I can't even comprehend how 'just about' could mean anything other than, 'yes I can do it, but only just'. Also, I'm American so it's not a British thing.

Okay, I just read Kate's comment and now I can comprehend the other meaning. I also maybe have to agree with it. Shoot.

Can it mean both?

32
Beth
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you Holly, but I'm Canadian and we have a lot of British phrases - so maybe that's it?

33
Anna
Feb 11, 2011

Sean is right, at least in the US. "Just about make it on time" means you will be a little late. Maybe not late enough to matter, but you will definitely not technically be on time.

34
Christine
Feb 11, 2011

When I think about the phrase, I understand Sean's point, but I use the phrase like you do. I am a British-Canadian, so there's that.

35
Anna
Feb 11, 2011

On the other hand, "just," without the "about," means that you do make it.
"Can you get out?"
"Just."

36
Mary
Feb 11, 2011

I'm an American siding with Sean, too. "Just about" = almost, not quite. To get your message across, Holly, I'd say "just" -- "I can just get out" or "just barely."

37
UG
Feb 11, 2011

I, too, pay $10/day to park, but in D.C. And I justify doing that EVERYDAY.

38
KatieC
Feb 11, 2011

Well, I'm Irish and you are correct.
'just about' is an affirmative reply.
So there!

39
Krysta
Feb 11, 2011

Well I would have used it in the same manner you did. But then I googled it and actually it means "almost" or "nearly" so I guess that implies in the case of accomplishing something that you can't totally get it done. Which is sad, because I love being right.

40
beyond
Feb 11, 2011

i just can't get over the $10/day parking. in nyc you can't even get $10/h parking...

41
Krissa
Feb 11, 2011

I don't think this is a right/wrong issue; I think this is cultural, and also, it's an ambiguous phrase in the first place. As another commenter said, if you were to say "I've read just about everything about mangoes" then it would imply you had read almost everything, but not everything, so in that sense, even Holly would mean "almost" when she said "just about". But in the sense she used it - "I can just about manage to squeeze through" - I think she's using a very English construction. My husband, also English, would use it in this way, and he would correctly mean he could barely manage, but he'd managed.

So, you're both right! How's that?

42
Sunday
Feb 11, 2011

I think I would say "just barely", meaning I can do it, but it will be really close!

43
Min
Feb 11, 2011

How am I losing this poll??? "Just about" CLEARLY means that you CAN get out of the car!!!!!!!

Also, I live in Philly, and people would LOVE to pay $10/day for parking. We have some lots here that are $16/HOUR.

44
Lian
Feb 11, 2011

Wow you've got me thinkin'.
"I'm just about ready to go..."
I guess that means that I am in fact not ready to go yet? :/

45
MJ
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you, Holly. However, I am not a native speaker, so I'm probably wrong. Here's my reasoning: the word "just" means barely, right? So if you say "I can just about get out" it would mean, "I can barely get out" which would mean you can get out, only by small margin. Does that make sense?

46
Veronica
Feb 11, 2011

This is a British/American Thing! My Dad says this all the time (he's English).

47
Linda_M
Feb 11, 2011

"Just about" = can't do it.
"Just barely" = can, with great effort, manage to do it.

48
Kristen
Feb 11, 2011

Sorry, Holly. We've discussed it in our house, and we believe you are wrong. It's like, if someone asks if you're ready to go, and you say, "Yes, I'm just about ready," then you're ALMOST ready to go, right?

However, the mango is totally yellow. So there's that.

(I still adore you!)

49
Sandra
Feb 11, 2011

I'm on your side Holly but I'm from Barbados and they don't call us Little England for nothing.

50
Amy
Feb 11, 2011

Shoot! I just voted "no" and then I thought about all the ways I usually use "just about" and realized that I agree with you. For instance, "that is just about the cutest puppy I've ever seen." So I screwed up your poll, sorry.

51
andrea
Feb 11, 2011

So here's how I read it:
"No, just about." meant no you couldn't, almost but not quite.
Had you said:
"Yes, just about." I would take that as yes, you can barely do it.

52
Thespian Libby
Feb 11, 2011

I've heard "wrong end of the stick" since a wee child, and I'm a product of the American South (oh hush y'all), so it isn't just a British phrase. As for "just about", to my mind it's "close...ohsoclose...but not quite".

53
ashley
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you on both phrases, and I'm not British! But I'm from the midwest and according to my friends in the southwest I'm crazy so I'm not sure I'm any help.

54
Chris C.
Feb 11, 2011

Sorry, but Sean is totally right on this one. "Just about" means you can almost do it, but not quite. I think the correct phrase for it being really close but you being able to do something is "just barely." (And I'm American, BTW).

55
Keenie Beanie
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you, but probably only because I learned the phrase from my British husband. Who, by the way, told me yesterday that I looked like I'd "lost 5 pounds but gained a penny." I had no idea what to think about that. He said, "Well, if you'd lost 5 pounds would you be happy?" I asked if I looked like I needed to lose 5 pounds. To which he replied, "Fine, you lost five dollars... oh, never mind." This is what happens because he speaks English and I speak American.

56
Philly
Feb 11, 2011

I literally cannot wrap my head around the fact that people think you are wrong!! Its driving me a little crazy! But I am English.
But just about means YES!!!! High five sister!

57
LINDSAY
Feb 11, 2011

I live in DC and $10 a day is unheard of. And I used to live in SF and I never found that lot. I did have my secret spot in North Beach, but that only helped when going to dinner. I used to ride the bus from my apt to school. One time a guy told me that if I touched him again he would kill me -- understand that the bus was like the MUNI train, butts touching, no choice about it. Then another time a woman lectured the entire bus on how we as a country don't bathe enough. Fun times on that bus.

58
Katrina
Feb 11, 2011

I hate to be with Sean on this one, but "just about" means you can't quite make it :). However, I really wanted to comment to say - Bostonian here, high-fiving you for an awesome parking deal. $10?!?! Downtown!?!? That's more than awesome. The cheapest lot around my workplace in downtown Boston is $20 - and I've looked.

59

To me just about means you're still working on it- and you ahven't decided quite yet if you can or can't do it.

60
Maryhope
Feb 11, 2011

I think grammatically speaking he's right, but I've used the phrase like you use it my whole life and never thought twice about it!

But then again my people emigrated from England and since emigration have only married folk of British descent (we aren't an adventurous people apparently), so I keep finding out that all sorts of things I thought were normal and American are not quite, like how my whole family puts in milk in their tea, and my dad wears bowties.

61
Christina
Feb 11, 2011

1. Sean's crazy.

2. $10 a day to park?! They charge $18 a day in the garage in my office building in downtown DC. Man, for $10 a day, I'd drive once a week too!

62
Sharone
Feb 11, 2011

I'm from southern California. It seems like both uses are really common, although I tend to use "just about" to mean "almost" more often than I use it to mean it the way you use it (I usually opt for "just barely," or "only just"). But the two meanings are so close that it's no wonder it's used both ways. Think about if you said, "I've had just about enough ESPN today, thank you very much!" How great a difference do you think there is between "just about enough" ESPN in that sentence and "enough"? I suspect it's very little.

63
Sharone
Feb 11, 2011

But p.s. Mangoes are yellow, I'd stake my life on it.

64
MS
Feb 11, 2011

I don't think you're crazy!...just British. That seems to be an expression I heard in the context you used it in when I spent the summer in London. I was momentarily confused until I figured out the intent involved there.

But sorry, here...it would mean you can't quite do it.

65
Chris
Feb 11, 2011

I haven't read all the comments but I do agree with Sean. Someone may already have suggested this, but if you had left OFF the word "about" you'd be golden. If you had said, "I can just get our" or "I can just barely" get out, you'd be indicating some SUCCESS at getting out.

But do say I can "just about see Russia from my house" means you can't really see it!

Chris (in Virginia)

66
danielle
Feb 11, 2011

Regardless of how you phrased it Sean broke the cardinal rule of conversation with a woman.

Rule 1: is ALWAYS listen to what I MEAN not to what I actually SAY!

Additionally, I am jealous that you can CHOOSE to drive and pay for parking. I pay 650 dollars a year to pay to come to work. AND I nearly wrecked my car in the garage because they have not de-iced anything.

stupid traffic and parking B@$#@$%

67
holly
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with Holly.

I'm australian so I don't speak american.

68
A. Marigold
Feb 11, 2011

One of your lovely commenters may have beat me to this, but I believe what you are trying to say is "just barely." I can just barely do something, so I can do it, but if things were any worse I couldn't. Barely there. Just about means almost, but not quite. So I agree with Sean, is what I'm saying.

But it could also be a British/American thing.

69
NothingButBonfires
Feb 11, 2011

See, I would never say "just barely." I think THAT must be an American thing!

70
DiaryofWhy
Feb 11, 2011

The French have a handy expression for what you're trying to say, which is "à peine." Which means, as Marigold said above, "just barely." "Just about," though, well, it means what Sean said. Sorry. :)

71
Delaney
Feb 11, 2011

If I'm "just about there," I'm not there yet.

72
Kellie
Feb 11, 2011

But the more important issue is that you get the short end of the stick not the wrong end of the stick. Because that makes so much more sense.

73
Shut The Folk Up
Feb 11, 2011

I tried to write a witty comment but ended up saying 'just about' to myself so many times that its meaning has dissolved into a mushy puddle of syllables.

74
jennifer in sf
Feb 11, 2011

I'm also going to have to side with Sean. To me "just about" is the same as "not quite." But I'm also American.

I do, however, know what "got the wrong end of the stick" means!

75
fancythis
Feb 11, 2011

i'm sorry. i do hate to disagree with you, what with you being the girl, and sean being the guy, and now I'm quite certain that the ladies who did that vagina monologues show would be very disappointed in me, but I have to say that sean is correct.
because well, if you can just about do something, it really is like another way of saying "just shy of a dollar" which of course means, that you do not have the dollar. but if you look in the cup holders of your car, maybe you could come up with the rest of the money.

76
niche
Feb 11, 2011

I use "just about" to mean I almost did/got something but didn't. For example, "I was so mad, I just about punched him in the face" (lol) I do not punch people because I am a skinny Chinese female who hasn't been to a gym or outdoors in years. Other times I would use it is for situations where I am reaching for something difficult to get and I am in the process of doing it. In this situation, there is a good chance I can't accomplish the task: "I just about got the USB drive behind the huge dresser (as I am reaching for it)

However, if I did do something but it was hard or unlikely to be accomplished, I would say like previous posters: "I barely reached that plate on the top shelf"

I live in Canada so its British (in spelling) and American (in all other ways) styles combined.

77
Stephanie S.
Feb 11, 2011

It pains me, but I'm agreeing with your husband. Just about means "not quite" in my book... Bummer.

78
Lisa
Feb 11, 2011

Sorry Holly I agree with your husband. If you had a pair of jeans and you "just about" fit in them, means you still have a little ways to go before they fit! :)

79
saskatch
Feb 11, 2011

Ok, listen...I'm American and an editor (for what it's worth) and YOU are correct! If you can "just about" about accomplish something, you're accomplishing it!

Also, I have always heard "you got the s**t-end of the stick." But that's probably just the crass American version.

I have to say, Holly: you got the s**t-end of the stick on this poll. We shall overcome. Just about.

80
Solayshine
Feb 11, 2011

Well, I'm also American and an editor and I have to disagree -- "just about" is like "almost." Think of this example: Holly just about died when Jordan whatever-his-name-is finally returned her call. OK, maybe that's a bad example, because Holly seems to REALLY like Jordan and might actually drop dead of excitement if he reached out -- but I think you see what I'm saying. "I just about died of embarrassment," "I just about peed my pants I was laughing so hard," "I just about went all ninja in my meeting." And as for the stick saying, I've always heard of "short end of the stick" and figured it referred to a disadvantage based on measurement, but now I'm wondering if that makes any sense at all, never really thought too hard about it before. Oh, I think I'm just about ready for a nap after all this thinking. :)

81
Franca Bollo
Feb 11, 2011

If I asked someone, "Can you squeeze your butt into those pants?" would they slap me just before or after they grunted, "Just about."? To me, it means close, but no cigar.

82
Rina
Feb 11, 2011

I grew up eating mangos daily. They're yellow.

83
Jamie
Feb 11, 2011

I had to think about it for a minute, but ultimately I voted no, because I think it means "almost, but not quite." And then I quizzed my (English) boyfriend, and he says it means "you can, but just barely." He also got very indignant and called me crazy, so...I think it might be an English/American thing.

84
Saucepan Man
Feb 11, 2011

This is my interpretation:

Both the English and the Americans use 'just about' in the context of time to mean something that is about to happen but hasn't happened yet. 'I was just about to brush my teeth' was a good example somebody gave. Both sides of the pond would have no disagreement with that; we'd both assume the action hadn't yet been attained or completed.

When 'just about' is used outside the context of time and as a statement of, or as a response to, a question about achievement, then the English have a separate construct which gives it the meaning of being achievable. ("I can just about reach it" or "Can you reach it? - Just about")

Interestingly the Americans, by and large, seem to continue to adopt the same construct as the time-related usage in this situation. The action can't be attained or achieved.

In fifty years of being fascinated by the UK/US language divide, I have never noticed that before...

85
Tracy
Feb 11, 2011

Girl, you "just about" crazy. Wait, to me that means you aren't quite crazy but to you that means you are crazy, but just barely. So I guess I just offended you. Sorry!

Thanks, this story amused me on this never-ending Friday afternoon.

86
Portia
Feb 11, 2011

I'm with you! I knew exactly what you meant and was confused by Sean's response. I'm reading through other people's examples of why "just about" means almost but not quite, and I disagree. I would assume the opposite in those situations.
I also know the expression "wrong end of the stick," and I'm American. So...maybe it's regional? No idea.

87
Ryan
Feb 11, 2011

I also had to agree with Sean (sorry, he's right) but I think it may be related to the phenom of people misusing phrases in the common lexicon. Like the over(mis)use of "literally". "I mean, I literally died when she ate the last cupcake!" Right?

And just think about the phrase the "short end of the stick", it's a stick! There's no short or long end, but maybe it's born from the drawing of straws where the one who gets the short straw is the looser?

88
Lizzie
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you! Totally! How could it possibly mean anything else? But am also British.

89
Lizzie
Feb 11, 2011

I agree with you! Totally! How could it possibly mean anything else? But am also British.

90
Claire
Feb 11, 2011

It really is a context thing, I believe. As I sit here and ponder and come quite close to reasoning it out but then consider it the other way and then believe THAT reasoning to be correct.... oh bother.

You must both be correct. Even if my initial vote was for Sean's version....

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