Mother's Day is almost here. My dad is a postal worker, and he often laments that Mother's Day brings approximately eleventy-zillion times more mail volume than Father's Day—or any holiday, probably. People tend to love their moms.
(Or, you know, they have an incredibly complex relationship that can be explored through years of therapy.)
The lexicon isn't always kind to moms. We mock mom jeans and mommyblogs. Headlines recently covered the U.S. dropping the so-called "mother of all bombs," which is a bizarre turn of phrase, given that mothers tend to create and nurture life rather than wipe it out.
Mothers do so many things for us, which is why they're usually tired and could use a nap, if we'd ever give them the chance, which we probably won't. Here's an appreciative look at some of the top verbs of motherhood.
Check out the expanded list Motherlode: A Mother's Day Lexicon.
Whether through breastfeeding, bottles, or ordering a pizza, mothers nourish their children. The first meanings of this word applied to breastfeeding, but the word has broadened quite a bit. You can call any food nourishment, and you can even call some non-edible things nourishing. For example, a great book is nourishment for your mind. But as your mother would say, "Never, ever eat books."
As great as your mom is—and hey, I never said she wasn't, so relax—I bet she sometimes vexes you. This is a short, punchy, useful word for irritations. Mothers constantly worry about their children, so they tend to nag them—nagging is one of the top ten vexations in the universe. Vex has been a word since at least the 1400s, and it can be used in two ways. If someone is annoying you, you can say "Stop vexing me!" or "I am vexed!" Vexing is a two-way street, but both are a pain in the tuchus.
Mothers often soothe their children, especially little ones who start crying because they're hungry, they have to go to the bathroom, they're tired, or it's Wednesday. I have a friend with three small children, and she spends most of the day soothing. The origins of this word are surprising: soothing had to do with proving something true rather than making someone feel better. Soothe was related to soothsayer, someone who speaks the truth and is therefore hard to find these days.
Consoling is similar to soothing. When you console someone, you make them feel better with kind words such as "You'll do better on the next math test" or "Here, have a cookie." Mothers have a lot of consoling to do, since children are constantly getting their knees scraped by the pavement and their dreams crushed by the world. Even as kids turn into adults, they still usually turn to their moms for consolation.
Motherhood isn't just about feeding and clothing: moms protect their young, as you can find out for yourself by messing with a baby bear in the wild. Moms protect their kids from suspicious strangers, inappropriate TV shows, and bad decisions, like a toddler who thinks he can jump off the top of the couch and stick the landing. Moms are, in their own way, the most caring bodyguards in the world.
This word, best known for its use in the Bible, is something all biological mothers can put on their resume: they begat, to use the past tense. To beget is to have children: begetting is reproducing. This old Germanic word doesn't pop up too often these days, though it is useful in jokes.
This means the same as beget: to have children in the biological sense, which I hope they're discussing in your health class, because this article is neither the time nor the place, OK? This meaning, so essential to life in general, caused the word to broaden. Engendering started referring to jumpstarting all sorts of processes and events. A good coach can engender a sense of teamwork, while a good parent can engender good qualities like self-confidence and manners. Even an evil scientist can engender things like mayhem and destruction throughout the multiverse.
Of course, not all mothers are bio-moms—some are adoptive mothers or foster mothers. An adoptive mother (or adoptive father) legally becomes a child's parent. Fostering is different. Some foster moms take care of kids who temporarily need a home: after a crisis is over, the kids go back to their birth mom or parents. Other times, fostering leads to adoption. I have a friend who fostered a little girl who was a baby, then that baby went back to the birth mom, but eventually my friend gained full custody. If that doesn't sound stressful, I'm not describing it right. I can barely handle the stress of having a well-behaved dog.
So take a moment to appreciate your own mother and all the hordes of mothers roaming the earth. Without moms, we wouldn't be here. Mother Earth would be lonely.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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