LINGUIST List 2.482

Mon 09 Sep 1991

Disc: Just in case

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Geoffrey Nunberg, "just in case"
  2. "Michael Kac", Re: Just in case/468
  3. "Michael Kac", 'just in case'
  4. , just in case
  5. John Coleman, RE: Just in case/468
  6. , just in case
  7. , just in case (again)

Message 1: "just in case"

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1991 20:58:46 PDT
From: Geoffrey Nunberg <>
Subject: "just in case"
Dana Scott is characteristically ingenious in showing how the use of "just
in case" to mean "iff" could have been derived by a kind of ellipsis from
something like "just in this case." He demonstrates, not for the first
time, how much more intellectually satisfying linguistics would be if it
were a purely deductive science. The crassly empirical OED suggests
another, more pedestrian origin for the phrase. It gives a sense (from
c1400) for "in case" to mean simply "in the event or contingency that, if
it should prove or happen that, if" with no implication of provision
against an untoward outome, as in "In case one sudden chance... had not
interrupted me." It is not clear when this sense became obsolete, but the
OED does give two 19th-century citations for it, and it's fair to assume
that Bradley or Russell would have regarded "just in case" as an
unremarkable if perhaps slightly literary way of saying "just if" or "just
in the event that."
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Message 2: Re: Just in case/468

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 91 16:36:59 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Re: Just in case/468
I first ran into 'just in case' in the 'iff' sense in the late sixties,
in linguistic literature -- my recollection is that I first encountered
it in this sense in a paper by Jerry Fodor. I also remember being initially
slightly puzzled by it but in the context it became evident what it meant
and I have since incorporated it into my own usage when I write for publi-
I will confess to some metaperplexity here, not over the fact that people
encountering the usage for the first time found it at odds with their nor-
mal understanding of the phrase but by what I take to be surprise that
'just in case' COULD have 'iff' as one if its meanings. Since 'in case'
is a synonym of 'if' in at least some contexts ('In case of rain I'll have
an umbrella with me') and since 'just' in one of its senses means 'only'
('I'm just a simple country lawyer') why is it so surprising that 'just
in case' can mean 'if and only if'? Or am I reading more into some of the
comments than is warranted?
Michael Kac
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Message 3: 'just in case'

Date: Sun, 8 Sep 91 17:28:59 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: 'just in case'
A codicil to an earlier posting re 'just in case' for 'iff'. In taking
*just* in its 'only' sense, I do not in fact make a full case for *just
in case* being naturally interpretable as *if and only if*. It would make
more sense to allude to yet another sense of *just* on which it means
*exactly* (as in 'The temperature is just right').
Between my earlier posting and this one, I read Dana Scott's analysis,
which prompted me to realize that I was justifying an interpretation
of *just in case* on which it shold mean *only if*. It may be coincidence
that it doesn't.
A sidelight: I almost zapped a Linguist volume devoted to this question be-
cause the phrase wasn't in quotes. I concluded that it was concerned with
contingency plans of some kind. Let's hear it for the use-mention distinction!
Michael Kac
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Message 4: just in case

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 91 11:12:07 MET DST
From: <>
Subject: just in case
In the Longman Guide to English Usage, s.v. case, Sidney Greenbaum et al. write
 that in case can mean if in American English, giving as both American and
 British English We'd better insure the house in case it burns downs and as
 purely American We'll get the insurance money in case the house burns down.
 Similar information is to be found in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary
 Englihsh, s.v. case. Is this right? No American non-linguist that I have
 consulted in a straw poll here in Amsterdam recognizes the latter usage, and to
 judge by the reactions on the net so far, linguists appear to regard the usage
 as restricted to the register of logic, mathematics, formal linguistics, etc.
I wonder if the American scientific-register usage has a Germanic origin. In
 German Im Falle, dass (lit. In-the case that) and Im Falle + genitive can, as
 far as I know, have a neutral conditional sense, whereas the contingency sense
 of English In case it rains is usually Fuer den Fall, dass (for the case that).
 Similar remarks apply to Dutch, where we find in het geval dat, in het geval
 van and in geval van with a conditional sense, the contingency sense being
 expressed as voor het geval dat.
Interestingly, a mistake commonly made by Dutch academics writing English is to
 use in case of where the sense is a neutral conditional. In a medical text, for
 example, a medical researcher undergoing training in writing English for
 publication wrote 'In case of an adverse reaction, act as follows' to mean 'If
 an adverse reaction occurs, act as follows'. S/he did not intend the meaning
 'To avoid an adverse reaction, act as follows'.
Lachlan Mackenzie, Free University, Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Message 5: RE: Just in case/468

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 91 10:15 BST
From: John Coleman <>
Subject: RE: Just in case/468
Geoffrey Russom's speculation that the logicians' use of "just in case"
may derive from British English isn't right, I don't think. As a British
English speaker, logicians' "just in case" sounds wrong to me in exactly
the way being reported on by Russom, Partee, et al. In fact, the first
time I came across this usage, I thought it must be American! So, who can
we blame it on now?
--- John Coleman
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Message 6: just in case

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 91 11:39
From: <>
Subject: just in case
I'm responding to Rus Russom's contribution, and more genrally, but belatedly
to the in/on discussion.
I am a native English speaker (as opposed to a native American speaker) and
the 'just in case' to mean 'if and only if' is not, as far as I am concerned
English. I have always had problems with this American usage - it interrupts
my reading of anything containing it (as does 'plow' which for me rhymes with
'blow' not 'now', and unavoidably so - but that is another story). The reading
which Rus offers - the taking of an umbrella just in case it rains - is
In my view, if I encounter 'on X's view' in some text or other (which I don't
recall having done - but lets assume I have poor memory) then I automatically
assume that the person is illiterate/non-English. I would certainly correct
it in anything for which I was given editorial responsibility. Likewise,
an irritating error is creeping into English - 'on the weekend' when people
mean 'at the weekend'.
That's my formal response. Informally I can say it much more rudely - but I
notice that the Linguist is very polite - so Ileave it to your imaginations.
But there is a further interesting question. Does the meaning of these words
migrate in the following sense? A given set of meanings maps onto some
prepositions, and then 'creative' use of language over a period shifts the
meanings to a different mapping (but doesn't change the overall semantic
package). So, in the current debate, can we expect to find some other use
developing for 'in'? Or, is everything drifting to a single general purpose
preposition? Or, is there some profound change in the semantics whereby
metaphors are leaking or whatever (after all, I wouldn't object to someone
taking a stand on this issue, and we have 'standpoint' and 'viewpoint') giving
us the underlying notion that a view is something to stand on (rather than
sit in?). Just a thought.
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Message 7: just in case (again)

Date: Mon, 9 Sep 91 12:01
From: <>
Subject: just in case (again)
In reply to Dana Scott's contribution.
And then again, perhaps.
The problem is that the derivation offered suggests that those concerned are
totally unware that 'just in case' has a strong other reading with logical
significance which confuses many readers (cf the weight of opinion expressed
in Linguist). Just in case I am misunderstood, my suggestion that logician's
are insensitive to language is intended to be humorous.
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