The Pulchritude of Motherhood

I was recently perusing a thesaurus (for jollies, you know) and came across the word “pulchritude.” What a fabulous word to say. Pulchritude. Just rolls around on your tongue all fun and grody-like, doesn’t it?

What does it mean, you ask? Well, the word I was looking up in the thesaurus when I found it was BEAUTY.

Wuh? I checked the dictionary, just to be sure, and yep, “pulchritude” means “beauty.” (Specifically, a woman’s physical beauty, but beauty nonetheless.)

Seriously. PULCHRITUDE means BEAUTY?! How can a word that sounds like smelly, putrid nastiness mean beauty? Like, “Hey girl, I’m so mesmerized by your pulchritude.” Yeah, no. I just don’t see it.

So, I’m sitting here pondering the oddity of this word that sounds so very different from its meaning, and motherhood naturally pops into my head. The “beauty” of motherhood often looks and feels more like smelly, putrid nastiness, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I think motherhood is truly, in its essence, breathtakingly beautiful. Bringing a child into a family and then loving, agonizing, guiding, fretting, caring, teaching, and otherwise parenting that child is an incomparable act of beauty.

But that beauty doesn’t always feel beautiful. Usually it feels more like the word pulchritude—beautiful in meaning, but grody and nasty in presentation.

For example: Caring for an infant, making sure it’s well-fed, clean, and protected, is a beautiful act of motherly sacrifice. But often that “beauty” means being covered in spit-up, baby food, and some substance you hope is dried baby food, but is probably poop. “Pulchritude” feels like a better word for that brand of beauty.

Helping toddlers and preschoolers learn to be a walking, talking human is a beautiful act of joy and wonderment. But that beauty frequently means cleaning up 14 messes before lunchtime, wiping a butt for the 723rd time, and asking Google how to get ketchup stains out of upholstery fabric. Pulchritude again.

Teaching a child right from wrong, to make wise choices, to strive for excellence, to be kind, and to practice responsibility is a beautiful act of faith in a child’s inherent capacity for goodness. But many days, it looks like frustration, arguing, nagging, and repeating the same words over and over and over and over ad nauseum. Pulchritude.

When we say motherhood is beautiful, we really mean it’s pulchritudinous. It is beauty, truly. It just doesn’t always look or feel like it. It’s beauty under a guise of grody nastiness.


(I do realize it’s not a perfect use of the word, if you want to get all literary and technical, but I’m sticking with it. It’s just too much fun to say. And who on Earth decided to use “pulchritude” for a woman’s beauty in the first place? So wrong. Next you’re going to tell me that “fungible” doesn’t mean something that’s fun to touch with your hands. Sheesh with the English language already.)

Have a pulchritudinous day! I know I will.


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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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