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Browsing the entries on WordReference for the word "juste", there seems to be an entry that seems to have an opposite meaning to most of the other entries.


Most of the entries seem related:

  • accurate / correct (ie regarding factuality). eg: "Les dauphins sont des mammifères, c'est juste !", "Dolphins are mammals; that's right!"
  • fair (ie regarding ethics/morality) : eg "Nathan a eu plus de bonbons que moi, ce n'est pas juste !", "Nathan had more sweets than me; it's not fair!"
  • in tune (singing) / accurate (aim) : "Mon frère chante juste. Cet archer vise juste.", "My brother sings in tune. The archer's aim is true."

I sense a similarity with these meanings; it's something about "juste = when something precisely matches / coincides with what is desirable".


But the following definition seems to mean the opposite:

  • insufficient: not enough (quantity), below a standard, not good enough (quality): eg "La moyenne de cet élève est trop juste. Cette chanson convient pour un karaoké, mais pour un vrai concert, c'est juste.", "This student's average is too low. That song's OK for karaoke, but it's not good enough for a real concert."

These latter meanings seem to be about failing to precisely coincide with what is desirable, unlike the first set of meanings.


Is there a way to understand why "juste" seems to have opposite meanings? For example, is there actually an underlying meaning beneath both sets of meanings, that I am not seeing? Or, perhaps one of these two sets of meanings is fundamental and historically older, and the other set of meanings diverged somehow from the older meanings?

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  • être juste=declarative, to be right, accurate, fair or on the mark, ne pas être juste=to be inaccurate or wrong or unfair, not on the mark or barely make the mark. The student's grade is too close [to failing].
    – Lambie
    Mar 15, 2022 at 16:03
  • Et c'est Juste son prénom. Pardon je peux pas laisser la question sans noter cet exemple !
    – livresque
    Mar 17, 2022 at 22:15

1 Answer 1

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They have no opposite meaning.

Juste means "right", "correct" and they indeed oppose to "wrong", "incorrect" but when juste is used with non binary choices, it represent the value just above the limit between "wrong" and "right".

In France, students are usually given scores between 0 to 20. Il a eu juste la moyenne à son examen means "He just got a 10 on his exam". In that case juste means that he fails to exceed the average, he was médiocre.

With the adverb trop that marks an excess, you mean that the value is so much failing to excess the average that it actually even fails to reach it. Une note trop juste would be something like a score of 8 or 9 in the French school scoring, even possibly 9.9 if the one who corrects is strict.

Without trop like in the example pour un concert, c'est juste, the meaning is not that it is bad but that it will probably fail to satisfy the audience, it will be "a little bit short to succeed".

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  • Do you think juste in the sense of seulement is primarily an anglicism? Note recency of a random example phrase in Ngrams. ... broken Ngram URL parsing notwithstanding, you can redo the search for yourself after clicking on the link.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Mar 15, 2022 at 21:00
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    @LukeSawczak Not an anglicism when meaning seulement, or a very old one. It was already used by Dumas père: Qu'est-ce que je demande? (...) Juste le nécessaire et un peu de superflu, pas davantage *, Dumas, *Louise Bernard, 1843. C'est juste moi "smells" a little the anglicism but can be heard along with C'est que moi / Ce n'est que moi.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 15, 2022 at 21:19

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