The Use of “Terribly” or Appreciate Your Mother

As I gave my daughter a bath and convinced her it was time to wash her hair, I began to say things like, “Your hair needs to look pretty, ” then backed over myself to say, “Your hairs needs to be clean and healthy and well groomed. There’s nothing wrong with being pretty, but you have to be smart too. And you are terribly smart.”

What? Terribly? Backtrack again. “You are wonderfully smart!”

When I imagine my daughter growing up, I see a sweet, cute girl who has a fierce independent streak and a penchant for quirky phrases. She’s going to learn dance and boxing, singing and orating, compromise and competition. She’ll be well balanced and brilliant.

Raising a girl is complicated. Not that raising a boy isn’t complicated in it’s own way–I have one of each and I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve battled with boy issues. Both are inundated with accepted social images day in-day out, some of which I can control, most of which I can’t. I consciously consider what I say as much as possible to make certain I send the correct message and express what I mean. I kick myself a few times a day when I realize my words of sarcasm or a misplaced quip reach the ears of my children with entirely different results than I intended.

And, like so many phrases we use with our children, it struck me how just the use of a word like “terribly” could change to tone of intent.

Terribly is used as an adverb that means extremely, but extremely itself is a descriptive word that can be used to describe the degree or intensity.



1. in a terrible manner.
2. Informal. extremely; very: It’s terribly late. I’m terribly sorry.

We often throw around the word terribly haphazardly, and in informal speak, we use is to describe anything to the extreme. But I am reminded that the word terribly comes from terrible, which itself means something that is distressing or extremely bad.  It makes sense to say “that schedule change is terribly inconvenient”.  But to say that my daughter is terribly smart implies that being smart is something to fear.



1. distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
2. extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
3. exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
4. formidably great: a terrible responsibility.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing to be smart? Quite often we hear from the newscasters the distressing statistics that we [Americans] are not smart enough, that we are falling behind in the studies that can be quantified on test scores. We also struggle with the fact that males are seen as “smarter” than females in many industries. Women struggle to achieve the same types of recognition in science and business as their male counterparts. I hope that my daughter will grow up to be whatever she wants to be and that she will be recognized for her achievements, whether they be scientific, artistic, or domestic.
Raising a girl, there is advice from all sides about how to treat her appearance and intelligence in ways that will prevent her from starving herself and feeling inadequate, something so many women struggle with continuously throughout their lives.  I wish that my mother could have written down the secret, because my sister and I are two fairly well-rounded, confident individuals that have never worried more about our appearance than our ability to make people laugh or displaying our intelligence and knowledge.
We have our share of issues, of course.  No one is perfect, and adversity is a fact of life that is as certain as death itself. My sister will tell you that one thing Mom said to her that made a difference was the phrase, “If you can’t be cute, be funny.” My favorite Mom-ism was “Don’t be a sheep.” But there were so many more things she did and said that shaped us into the women we are and led us down completely different psychological paths than our five brothers*.  Subtleties in the way she interacted with the world which were imperceptible to me as a child. My mother lost her capacities to communicate before I could fully appreciate her wisdom.
Appreciate your mothers and your daughters. Appreciate yourself as a women so we [women] can change the way the world perceives us.
*Yes, I said five brothers. There are seven children in our family, all from the same two parents. And that is a story for another day.

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