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It was written on a T-shirt: "Do not disturb. Just don't."
What does "just" mean here? Does it mean that all I want is that you don't disturb?

There is a difference of opinion between the respondents. What is the opinion of someone whose mother tongue is English?

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    It's worth noting that these are sentence fragments with many implied words. The full meaning, with implied words in parentheses, could be given as "(I demand that you) do not disturb (me). (I demand that you) just don't (disturb me)."
    – Kevin
    Jul 16 '20 at 0:53
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    @Kevin Imperatives are generally considered valid sentences in their own right. Since imperatives always apply to the audience, no subject is needed. So simply having a nontransitive verb in the imperative is a complete sentence. There is an argument that there is an implied "me", but other than that, it's a complete sentence. Jul 16 '20 at 6:45
  • In this case, the word "just" means "That's all there is to it" as in "Do not disturb. That's all there is to it. Don't." Jul 16 '20 at 20:17
  • "Just don't" is often something you'd hear say when somebody is about to offer and excuse or explanation or argument that you don't even want to hear. You interrupt them with an exasperated "just don't" to shut down the whole thing.
    – shawnt00
    Jul 16 '20 at 22:05
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    Wanted to point out that this is pretty funny. "Do not disturb" is like a stop sign, requiring no discussion. It's the thing you put on your door handle when you don't want maid service. It's a setting on your phone when you don't want calls. So adding "Just Don't" is like fending off an argument from someone not clever enough to get it the first time. Kind of like a Stop sign that has (Really) or (I mean it) underneath it.
    – Elby Cloud
    Jul 17 '20 at 4:28

10 Answers 10

59

I think the word "just" here means something like "simply".

The shirt is saying something like, "This is a simple situation and you must follow this simple instruction: do not disturb me. There are no exceptions to this rule. Don't ask me why. Simply do not disturb me."

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    Exactly. "I don't care to explain it any further. Listen to what I say, and then do it". It is hard to give a more precise explanation of the word. It is just (:)) a way of stating something without wanting to explain further. The reasons for that could be numerous. It's a sentence where tone of voice would matter a lot, to interpret what the one saying it actually means. "leave me alone"? "this is dangerous"? "you can't unsee this if you see it"? Could be a veiled threat. Could be a friendly warning. Could be a plea.
    – jumps4fun
    Jul 14 '20 at 15:20
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    @jumps4fun unfortunately, text on a shirt doesn’t leave much room for tone. Jul 14 '20 at 23:28
  • Exactly the same reason why arguments tend to get more easily heated in online chats, over face to face ;)
    – jumps4fun
    Jul 15 '20 at 10:59
22

"Just don't" is often used as a response to the question (or some variation of) "Why not?":

Dad: Don't touch that

Kid: Why not?

Dad: Just don't.

In your example, they're shutting down the question "Why can't I disturb you?", "What are you doing?", etc.. before you have the chance to ask it, implying they are expecting you to ask it.

Dad: Don't touch that

Kid: -

Dad: Just don't.

It's quite common, so much so that it has made it's way into one-way conversation for comedic effect, hence the t-shirt print.

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    Exactly. In a context like this "just" is a marker of (possibly mild) frustration or exasperation. If someone adds "just don't" to the end of an instruction like "do not disturb" then you can infer that they have told people not to disturb them many times before. Jul 15 '20 at 14:59
  • I like this answer. Whilst the accepted answer is unarguably right, this draws attention to the fact that "just don't" as a phrase has more meaning than the individual words themselves. I would suggest that this is why it doesn't translate easily. See idiom Jul 16 '20 at 14:37
15

Just, in this context, is more of an indication that there may be repercussions if you do not heed the previous warning. It is almost like saying “Don’t disturb me. Or, else!” It is almost, but not quite, a veiled threat.

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    yes, and to an english learner I'd suggest: "just don't use this style" :-). There's cases where you would end up conveying too much threat. I can very easily be perceived as rude
    – Jeffrey
    Jul 14 '20 at 13:24
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    Perhaps a better example would be "Don't tease the grizzly bears. Just don't."
    – jamesqf
    Jul 14 '20 at 16:31
  • It is intended to convey as much threat as is needed to deter the action: as in "Just don't, because you really will not like the possible consequences I am prepared to inflict." Parents in the UK have been using this phrase for at least 70 years. Jul 16 '20 at 9:48
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I vaguely suspect this is a pun of sorts on the Nike slogan "Just do it".

Since in the context of Nike's advertising "just do it" means "do it without even thinking about it", the opposite phrase "just don't" would mean "don't even think about doing it".

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    Similar tone, but I doubt it's in any way related to the Nike slogan. It'd be a bit obscure. Jul 15 '20 at 8:47
  • @Ruadhan2300 Eh, depends. Among some groups of people, and around the internet, the Nike slogan is a bit of a meme, so it’s possible. Jul 15 '20 at 9:11
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    According to Google's Ngram viewer, "Just don't" is a more popular phrase than "Just do it", and usage of both predate Nike (founded in 1964) and Nike's usage of the phrase "Just Do It" (1988). I don't think "Just don't" is in any way related to Nike's slogan. Jul 15 '20 at 19:47
  • I disagree. The first thing that came to my mind was that it was a pun on the Nike slogan. Especially considering that T-Shirt text is almost always attempting to be humourous, the pun explanation fits even better.
    – Bohemian
    Jul 16 '20 at 22:44
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It means "only" or "simply".

However, the context is important. Here is a typical case where an imperative sentence is used with "just":

Dad: Jimmy, mow the lawn.
Jimmy: But daaaaaaaaaaad, I don't want to mow the lawn!
Dad: I'll get ice cream if you mow the lawn.
Jimmy: But I'm playing a game!
Dad: Mow the lawn now or I'll give you time out!
Jimmy: No! Please don't!
Dad: Stop complaining and just mow the lawn!

In this argument, it means: The only thing you should do is mow the lawn. You should not complain, or argue, or do anything else. Obviously, it also conveys anger or frustration.

Compare with a more common use of "just":

Do you want ketchup or mayo or garlic yoghurt?
Just ketchup, thanks.

Here it means: The only thing I want is ketchup. I do not want mayo, or garlic yoghurt, or anything else.

In the argument context, it can also be seen as "simply". "Simply mow the lawn, without extra complications like complaining or arguing."

The shirt is similar to the argument, except much shorter, and perhaps with less anger and more frustration.

Dad: Don't open the door.
Jimmy: But daaaad, I want to play outside!
Dad: Just don't open it!

Mad scientist: Don't press the button.
Jimmy: But it's shiny and red! I want to press it!
Mad scientist: Just don't press it!

In this case, nobody is complaining about being told "do not disturb" - obviously, since it's a T-shirt and not a two-way conversation. The writer is acting as if someone did, anyway. It's like a pre-emptive answer, because the writer is feeling especially frustrated and is expecting someone to complain:

Mom: Don't eat the cookies. Just don't!
Jimmy: But -
Mom: I said, "just don't!" Last time you ate all the cookies and we had to cancel the family picnic!

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  • Upvoted mostly for the great selection of examples. :)
    – IMSoP
    Jul 15 '20 at 8:59
6

Like @tanner-swett's answer, I believe "just" should be interpreted to mean "simply". But here's a bit more of an unpack:

"Do not disturb. Just don't."

I want you to refrain from disturbing me. I want this very very much. No matter what the situation may be, no matter who is in peril or what has happened, do not disturb me. You do not need to think about anything else. The order is simple. It is three words. You do not need to make it more complicated than that by trying to think of an exception. Simply this: do not disturb.

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    Thanks. So my guess was almost correct that all I want is for you not to disturb me.
    – mbmoosavi
    Jul 14 '20 at 15:18
  • I want to link to the scene in As Good As It Gets where Melvin says not to knock on his door ... Jul 14 '20 at 18:48
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Without Further Explanation

Aside from the other answers suggesting "Simply" and "Only" as possible synonyms. In this sort of context, the word Just is being used to emphasise that there will be no justification or explanation.

An authority figure saying "Just do it" is allowing no argument. In the context of the T-shirt, they're saying not to bother them, and that they don't want to explain what will happen if you do.

In sentences like this, the phrase is usually fully functional without the word "Just" It's similar to spelling out the word "Period" on the end of a sentence to emphasise it and indicate that there's nothing more to say.

"I will not stand for this nonsense! you're wrong. Period!"

"Do not Disturb. Don't"

It short-circuits the following question, someone asking why they shouldn't disturb you, by preemptively answering it.

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  • As British English speaker born in the 60s and lived in central England majority of my life : this is exactly what I would understand from the statement.
    – charmer
    Jul 15 '20 at 13:13
  • I'd add that just is very useful as "no further explanation needed" as in "it's just up the hill" or "you just turn the knob". This other meaning is piggy-backing on that, playfully changing it to the impolite "further explanation is clearly needed, but will not be given". Jul 15 '20 at 13:55
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"Just" here has the meaning "only". As the previous statement was an order it is saying that that the requirement is to obey the order without doing anything else (like discussion, delay, etc).

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    The sentence do not disturb, only don't doesn't make sense. In the above case I don't think we can simply replace just with another word without losing some of the meaning.
    – sam_smith
    Jul 14 '20 at 6:20
  • @simon_smiley, The word "only" cannot replace the word "just", as you have pointed out, but I think it is the simplest explanation. "Just don't!", abbreviated from "Just don't disturb me", means "don't disturb me and don't do anything different."
    – Peter
    Jul 14 '20 at 6:44
  • I would probably learn more towards: "don't disturb me, I know you are going to disturb me anyway so I am preempting that by reiterating not to disturb me". Again the sentence "don't disturb me and don't do anything different" doesn't feel very idiomatic to me
    – sam_smith
    Jul 14 '20 at 6:49
  • I was trying for a more generally applicable statement. Consider "Just go", "Just kick the ball", "Just buy the milk" as other examples. I agree the explanation is not idiomatic - I would say "Just ...."
    – Peter
    Jul 14 '20 at 7:02
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    The word "just" in these contexts is not time-relayed except incidentally, it is scope-related. Don't do other things, like asking reasons, waiting, thinking about who to kick to, buying other stuff. Do only the requested task (not disturbing, going, kicking, buying milk). When the request is negative you can do other things that do not conflict, but when the request is positive anything else can conflict.
    – Peter
    Jul 14 '20 at 11:18
1

It can simply mean no reasons for not disturbing will be given, and you are expected to take the imperative utterance to be sufficient with no further justification.

-2

Just is used here only for softening. Although it carries the meaning of "simply" (definitely not "only") the vital thing it does in the statement is to place a soft emphasis and thus soften the imperative.

We can rephrase this sentence as:

  • Just do not disturb!

However, even a stronger softening can be achieved by adding "please" for instance:

  • Just do not disturb, please.
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    I actually read it the other way, like Dean F.'s answer, by emphasizing that you don't want to be disturbed it is almost a threat that you will react aggressively if you are disturbed. I think this would be mildly rude in a work environment or if you said it to an authority figure. Jul 14 '20 at 17:34
  • @user3067860 I disagree, emphasising an imperative with just, in my opinion, works only for non-negative statements, like: Just take it! Just do it! Just climb up there already. Words like already, now, please, or phrases like "will you" change the emphasis. Jul 14 '20 at 18:02
  • I think it's really the repetition that does most of the work. But you might make it work either way with tone of voice. On a shirt... it still comes across as mildly rude to me, like something a moody teenager might say. Jul 14 '20 at 18:44
  • It can be used for softening, but only in speech, with a softer tone of voice; in writing, it doesn't have this effect.
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 15 '20 at 13:19
  • I think just's softening is in phrases such as "I just like her music", or "I've just never gone there" or "I just don't like being disturbed". Expressing that you haven't put much thought into an opinion. Jul 15 '20 at 14:06

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