This paper examines the use of social justice terminology by a number of beginning and experienced social workers. Transcripts of interviews about social workers' practice from another of the authors' studies (a qualitative study of social work knowledge and skill development) are analysed for use of terminology consistent with social justice ideals, and for other predominant themes. Findings indicate that social justice terms are little used, even when discussing practice scenarios which might clearly suggest issues of social justice. A significant proportion of workers' language demonstrates an awareness of social environmental factors, but a predominant language usage implies approaches which could be seen as inconsistent with social justice individualistic focus on the analysis of practice scenarios, and what we have termed a 'professional', that is, ambivalent orientation towards social action. Implications of the study include the need to question and/or reaffirm the social justice basis of social work, particularly through the construction and use of relevant language to frame our practice.