Understanding the Gist of the Matter

By Maeve Maddox

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I’ve begun to notice the misuse of “just” for gist in the expression “gist of the matter.” Admittedly, many of the occurrences appear in informal comments at the end of blogs and articles, but I’ve also found examples in formal pieces written by writers who should know better.

I think I got the just of the matter. Though I also suspect that I missed a few points…

The just of the matter is that it isn’t Christ that fell short, when you mess up, it is you.

I think that [it] is very hard to please men…The just of the matter is, either they like you or they don’t.

The just of the matter is, whenever you hear something about biofuels and biorefining, keep an open mind and never assume that what you’ve heard about it in the past applies now.

1. Law. The real ground or point (of an action, indictment, etc.).
2. The substance or pith of a matter, the essence or main part.

The noun gist in “the gist of the matter,” derives from Anglo-French legal phrases that included the word gist in the sense of the verb “lies.”; for example, cest action gist, literally, “this action lies,” from French gésir, “to lie,” from Latin jacet, “it lies.” The meaning of “this action lies” was “this case is sustainable by law.”

Other ways to say “the gist of the matter” are:

the heart of the matter
the most essential thing to know or remember
the main point

Here are some examples of the correct use of gist on the web:

Sometimes we crunch data and painstakingly calculate choices and positions, and sometimes we rapidly and automatically seize on the essence, the simple value, the gist of the matter.

The gist of the matter can be found on Lisa’s post, as well as a rather lengthy discussion

Microcontent: Sometimes You Just Need the Gist

We now come to the gist of the matter.

That, in our opinion, is what the real gist of Lenin’s thesis on the identity…of dialectics…[is].

I found a business podcast called “The Gist of the Matter.” There’s also a web application called Gist. It analyzes email and “summarizes the content based on perceived importance sorted by time, people, attachments, communication frequency, or companies.”

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4 Responses to “Understanding the Gist of the Matter”

  • Jim

    This substitution of “just” for “gist”, like the equally grating “once and awhile” or “one in the same”, is seen with increasing frequency. It is part of a trend toward sloppiness, in thought and action as well as writing, that I have dubbed “FITCE” — “F*** It, That’s Close Enough.”. Don’t bother with a dictionary or style manual; in fact, if the spell-checker protests, just select “Add” and use the atrocious spelling henceforth.

  • Jordan Devin Murphy

    Interesting. I haven’t actually noticed that one before. I find myself overusing “just,” but mostly as a poor modifier. When I go back through my writing, I delete it because I didn’t need it in the first place.

  • Katie

    Thankfully I haven’t come across this stupidity anywhere yet.

    I just can’t understand why anyone would use an expression without knowing what it means. I could understand this sort of mistake from a young child (because they often copy adults simply to sound clever, and end up sounding cute instead) but anyone else really should know better.

    I think there is something slightly wrong with the world these days…

  • venqax

    I think this error (and yes, I have heard it) comes from the fact that people don’t read much anymore. So they reproduce what they hear– or think they hear– and without anything written to compare it to, it stays that way. Examples are all around: it’s a doggy dog world, take it for granite, for all intensive purposes, anchors away and tow the line (which do sound exactly like their correctly written counteparts, a wolf in cheap clothing or wolf in chief’s clothing, then in place of than (I was faster then him), why for while (sit here why I go inside), should of in place of should have. Some, like the last 2, don’t even make sense. If the speaker would stop and think about it, they’d realize that. But they don’t. Stop OR think. They gist talk withouth any lack of confidences in their verbal abilities.

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