Dear Mom: 5 Adjectives for Mother’s Day


Last year, we asked our readers what words best describe their mothers. We noticed a prominent theme in the terms, which spoke of moms most "tenacious," "resilient," "indestructible," and "unyielding" in character. One submission effectively encapsulates this theme: strong. This versatile adjective entered English over a thousand years ago as a descriptor of physical power and muscular force. Shortly thereafter, it took on a meaning of great moral power or courage. Since then, senses and applications for this term have multiplied, giving us variations such as “powerful in influence or authority” and “able to resist strain, force, wear, etc.” Sound like anyone you know?


The word beautiful entered English with a sense of "embodying physical perfection," true to its Latin root bellus meaning "pretty." But shortly after its entry into the lexicon, beautiful began to mean "excellent" and "admirable," denoting qualities that are far more than skin deep. We broadly define the term as "possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about; delighting the senses or mind." Perhaps because so many wonderful qualities are associated with this versatile term, many of our readers found beautiful to be the perfect maternal descriptor.


The earliest sense of intelligent was "a listener." That noun sense has all but disappeared, but its essence survives in modern senses of intelligent that emphasize the possession of keen understanding and comprehension, faculties that often flow from effective listening. Several of our readers selected this term to describe their moms; other terms in this word family that might be fun to send Mom's way are sagacious ("having or showing acute mental discernment and practical sense"), perspicacious ("having keen mental perception") and of course wise, which lends a moral component to understanding and comprehension to mean "having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right."


Gentle is often used to mean "kindly and amiable." But a look at its history and evolution reveals an enchanting surprise. Gentle is derived from the Latin gentilis meaning "belonging to the same family." This element of familial distinction is reflected in the earliest senses of gentle, "of good birth or family" and "noble." By the early 1800s, gentle took a turn and acquired the meaning of "enchanted or haunted by fairies," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. This supernatural sense of the word might also come in handy to describe mothers as so many of them do seem to possess magical powers.


Some of our readers submitted words that connote poise and elegance. One such word was classy. This word is defined as "of a high class, rank, or grade; stylish; admirably smart." It descends from the Latin classis, which referred to a division of Roman people on the basis of land, a group of citizens called to serve in the military, or other designated bands. Other words that might come in handy if your mom is the model of sophistication: smart in the sense “socially elegant; sophisticated or fashionable,” exquisite in the sense “of particular refinement or elegance,” and, if she displays a decidedly metropolitan panache, urbane, “reflecting elegance, sophistication, especially in expression.”