THERE’S A THING — WELL, LET’S call it a verbal placeholder-prefix — used by writers of audiovisual entertainments when they want a character to segue away from or into an awkward conversation.
My friends, meet: “It’s just that…”
You’ve heard it. Sure you have. Classic situation in point: Someone is being politely badgered into self-revelation. They’ll begin by saying, “Oh, it’s nothing” (or the like). On being pressed further, they’ll begin to spill their guts by saying, “It’s just that…”
I first noticed this while watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reruns. I thought it was just that (!) Miles O’Brien was seized by a recurring verbal tic. But then I noticed other characters saying it. Then I heard it in other programs, such as Frasier and The Dick Van Dyke Show. I pointed out to my roommate what was going on, and she started hearing it too. When I heard strangers on the street saying it, I began to get a bit worried.
Where did it come from? How did it start? Was it initially a media creation, or did it become one because of a conversation-observant writer? It’s a real chicken-or-the-egg poser. The only consolation I have (and it’s a small one) is that now that I’ve revealed it to you, you’ll hear it too. After all, misery loves company.