Why don’t you just

J and I were discussing language use in the car yesterday, driving back from the YMCA with the kids. And we mutually agreed that one really ought refrain from using the phrase, “why don’t you just [whatever].”

Here’s what’s wrong with “why don’t you just”:

It’s the “just”.

“Just” is a word that, in this sentence implies that whatever follows is obvious and easy. That it’s a small thing. When used in “why don’t you just” it does not give the object of the question a graceful way out.

“Why don’t you just” unfolds, like some dark interdimensional hellworm from the pit, into “What is wrong with you that you have not done the obvious, incredibly easy, perfectly simple thing that would have solved your problem six hours ago? I can’t believe I am asking you this question, but since you have not done the thing, I am wondering whether you are incompetent, stupid, or lazy. I await your reply with interest, so I can more easily figure out what your problem is.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

If you, dear reader, do not intend “why don’t you just” to mean those things, I beg you to consider your word choice. If you actually want to know why the person spoken to is taking one course of action rather than another course of action, there are better ways to say it.

“From where I am, it looks like [thing] might give you the result you want. Is there a reason not, that I am missing?” is a decent way to phrase it.

“If I were in that situation, I might try [thing].” is another.

“I know you’ve probably tried [thing] already, how did it go?”

Or even a simple, “have you considered trying [thing]?”

Try it. Try removing “why don’t you just” from your conversation. You may be pleased with the results.

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