TBH, Shouldn’t We Always Be Honest?

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What started as a simple way to earn more likes and comments on Instagram, the millennial phrase “tbh” has made its way into every day speech. Middle schoolers and tweens may still use the classic “like for a tbh” on their cute but slightly cringe-worthy social media pages, but teens and college students alike have turned this phrase into something more. Literally translated, “tbh” means “to be honest,” but since when is anyone actually honest these days? Though this phrase inherently implies honesty, CM has decided to debunk its real meaning. How do college students use it today? In all honesty, what does it really mean?

What Does TBH Mean and how do we use it?


“I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the freshman 15, and tbh, I can’t afford that happening to me.”

Translation: “I’m scared of what I’d look like after 15 extra pounds.”

—University of Virginia freshman Sara Barrett

“Tbh, it wasn’t actually that expensive.”

Translation: “I’m trying to convince myself that I still have money even though I rarely have money.”

—University of Virginia senior Jace Krakovitz

“Tbh, she didn’t seem mad so sorry, not sorry.”

Translation: “My friend was not upset when I did not invite her to lunch, therefore I will not apologize for my actions.”

—Miami of Ohio freshman Izzy Schwarze

“Tbh, I just want to be Oliva Pope.”

Translation: “The lead character in the ABC hit show Scandal, Olivia Pope, inspires me to be more focused in school because of her strong, determined persona.”

—Miami of Ohio freshman Izzy Schwarze

“Tbh, the last season of House of Cards was kind of anti-climactic.”

Translation: “I was expecting the last season of House of Cards to end much more dramatically than it did, so I’m disappointed.”

—Yale University senior Christopher Bowman

“He’s not even that hot, tbh.”

Translation: “He didn’t reciprocate my flirting, so I’m trying to make myself feel better about the situation.”

—Louisiana State University sophomore Caroline Moore

“Tbh, that sounds like a medical procedure.”

Translation: “I’ve never heard that word in my life, but it sounds like something Meredith Grey would say on Grey’s Anatomy.”

—University of Virginia senior Mallory Leidinger

“Tbh, you just won’t get it, mom.”

Translation: “My mom tries to be hip and keep up with what my friends’ captions on Instagram mean. She asked what the difference between lol and lmao is, and I just couldn’t even try to explain.”

—South Carolina junior Sarah Johnson


As our enlightening student quotes demonstrate, tbh possesses a multiplicity of meanings. To summarize, college students often use tbh as an introduction to a comment or opinion that may or may not convey honesty. When it falls at the end of a sentence, it sounds more like an afterthought, a way to make your potentially offensive or blunt comment seem more casual and off-hand. I’m not really sure what to make of a tbh that falls in the middle of a sentence—this seems quite advanced. If anything, this placement of tbh “[amps] up the drama” of your sentence, Bowman mentioned.

The real takeaway from this shape-shifting millennial phrase is that it can accommodate any mood or scenario imaginable. Tbh usually introduces some sort of agenda as we seek to prove how little we care (tbh, it doesn’t even matter that I failed that test. I still have better grades than my sister). We may also use it to preface some offensive comment to one of our friends: Tbh, you’ve looked better. You should probably change.

Feeling extra sassy? Use tbh to let your friends know you’re not afraid to speak your mind. Trying to make yourself feel better? Tbh can help remind you that the guy honestly isn’t even worth your time. Looking for a way out of an annoying conversation? Shut the other person down by saying, tbh, I don’t really have time for this right now.

Not surprisingly, the popularity and versatility of tbh continues to grow as more and more millennials integrate this phrase into their vernacular. To keep up with the trends, make sure you sprinkle tbh into your texting and spoken conversations even more than seems comfortable, normal or natural. Tbh, all the kids are doing it.



Molly Snelling

What would happen if everyone were honest all the time? Clearly, even I admit to my own “psychopathic” tendencies using tbh. Game of Thrones is no joke, so I have to be honest about my true feelings toward Daenerys using her dragons to incinerate thousands in the Lannister Army, even if my friends think I’m crazy a result. Tbh, I don’t really care, though.

Still, finding honesty in a culture where texting lingo increasingly seeps into common speech proves difficult. While millions of variations of tbh exist as people assert their “honesty” in different contexts, the truth still manages to hide behind the many layers of millennial lingo.

If it takes a translation to decode what we’re actually trying to say to each other, we might never fully understand our friends. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. I mean, just imagine if everyone were completely honest all the time. “College would be boring, because I love drama. Phrases like tbh amp up the drama,” Bowman said.

So, here’s the real truth. We perpetuate our confusing language in order to keep things amusing, to keep ourselves and our friends on their toes. “If everyone were honest all the time, we would all have much fewer friends, but we would be much closer with the friends that we do have… also peoples’ Instagrams would get like 20 likes max,” Krakovitz said. So, should we settle for tbh’s ironic ability to mask our full intentions, or should we strive to let this lingo guide us toward more honest interactions and relationships? Tbh, it’s up to you.

10 Times You Really Want to Say TBH in College

Written by Laura Smythe

Growing up, adults in our lives drilled the mantra “honesty is the best policy” into our heads since kindergarten.  Supposedly, we can strengthen relationships and solve all our problems with the magic formula called honesty. Now that we’re the adults, however, we’ve learned that sometimes being honest actually makes things more complicated. Feelings get hurt. Baring all your emotions is scary. You won’t impress your professor by forgetting about your stats homework because you decided to go to happy hour instead. So, we have to wonder: is honesty actually the best policy?

1. When You Want to Watch Netflix in Peace

Have you ever thought about the fact it’s super weird that as soon as we become adults, colleges to shove us into a 12 by 12 drab dorm with a complete stranger? A delicate balance exists between creating a comfortable living space for your roommates and ensuring your needs are met too. “[My former friends and I] were living together, and I didn’t want to create a tense or strained living environment by being honest about my discomfort with invasive habits, like entering my room when I wasn’t around or being offended by me having plans with other people,” Temple University junior Keely McAveney said. “I mostly avoided honest confrontation because I felt like these problems stemmed from a fundamental difference in personality and the idea of friendship. I didn’t believe it was fixable.”

2. When Group Projects Go Bad

Yes, for some god-awful reason, group projects still exist in college. You’re drowning in your own workload already without assuming the responsibilities of four other people and not even seeing elusive Group Member #5 until the day of your group presentation. Hopefully next time a group project rolls around, everyone will pull their own weight. Miracles happen, right? “This semester I had a group project where one girl wanted everything to fit her vision,” Temple University junior Holly Martin said. “I wanted to be honest with the group and say, ‘Listen I’d so much rather do this individually, because clearly she knows what she wants and it’s not even what the project is supposed to be about.’ But I just let it go. I was annoyed the whole time, but we got the work done. I chose to not be honest because it made life a lot simpler.”

3. When Your Professor Makes No Sense

Professors’ personalities vary as widely as your enthusiasm to go to class. Some like joking around with students and some turn into Voldemort the second you answer a question wrong. “In my communications class we constantly ask for clarification on work due soon and it appears [the professor] doesn’t know what we are talking about and repeats something again and again,” Georgian College freshman Sam Johnston said. “I don’t be honest with her because of the way I was raised. With my martial arts background and how my parents taught me, you don’t talk back to those who are older than you or teach you, simply out of respect for them.”

4. When You Want Your Friend to Love Herself as Much as You Love Her

Loving our friends means knowing and accepting their flaws—even the ones they don’t know exist. We also want the best for them, so it can be difficult watching them make mistakes or sell themselves short. “Every time [my friend and her ex] are together they act like it’s a relationship all over again,” Bloomsburg University freshman Alejandro Largo said. “The thing is she doesn’t want anything from him except a friendship and he wants to get back together. Every time I see them cuddled up in bed I just want to yell at her about how it’s not okay to use people like that and it’s not okay to hold on to him like that. Then I remember how I would feel if some outsider was commenting on such a complicated relationship, so I keep my mouth shut.”

5. When You’re Just Trying to Get Your Job Done

Every career coach ever preaches “fake it til you make it,” so what’s with this whole honesty push? Martin works in Temple University’s Registrar’s Office answering students’ questions about their forms and transcripts. She said one time the office received 800 student emails, making it difficult for her to do her job processing transcripts when her co-worker responsible for replying to the emails fell behind. “My boss wanted to know why I had so many documents on hold, and I just told her I was working on them instead of complaining about the email situation,” Martin said. “Mostly because that’s not my job, and I know the lady who runs the email account would just find something to complain about in regard to me.”

6. When You Don’t Want to Make Grandma Sad

Establishing your independence suddenly became the hallmark of the college experience. Unfortunately, this can cause rifts with relatives who have trouble letting go of the high school you. “I come from a south Asian family which basically encompasses a life of rules,” Temple University sophomore Ashley Alex said. “I myself like to live on the edge. My best friend lives in Florida and she invited me to spend spring break with her. I knew without even asking my parents wouldn’t give me permission. So, I did what the wild side of me was dying to do and I went on a plane to Florida without telling my parents. The experience was great and I felt very independent, but I had to keep it in because I knew my whole life would be over if they found out.”

7. When You Want to Put a Ring On It

Adulting isn’t easy, finals are rough, but relationships are downright challenging. Honestly (that’s the theme here, right?) can you think of anything more potentially heart wrenching? From trying to make a good impression on a first date to convincing your significant other your quirks are endearing instead of psychotic, honesty loves to complicate relationships. On the other hand, not communicating with your partner leads to the quickest road to Singlesville and a Tinder Plus subscription. “I censor my questions and concerns from significant others because I don’t want to push them away,” Georgian College freshman Justin Willis said. “I always end up asking or prying too much about how my significant other is feeling, whether they are happy or not, or if I’m doing something wrong (thanks anxiety). I end up driving them away or alienating them.”

8. When You Thought High School Stayed in High School

9 a.m. lectures are grueling enough without uncomfortable feuds with your classmates. Ideally, drama would not have graduated high school with you, but the real world sometimes likes to throw curveballs and laugh when they knock you down. “One girl [in my class] keeps getting upset with me if I don’t constantly spend all my time with her in class and outside of class,” Georgian College freshman Taylor Grant said. “She’s gotten so upset over me sitting with someone else to the point of ignoring me and skipping a class to avoid me. I’ve really wanted to tell her that I am allowed to have other friends and spend time with them just as much as I spend time with her, but I’m not sure how to say it without a fight happening.”

9. When the Breakup Was Already Bad Enough

You know how breakups are famous for making everyone feel great? Me neither. Notoriously the worst things in existence, breakups never need to be exacerbated. There’s no need to drive the knife deeper by giving your ex a list of all the reasons he’s not right for you. “I lied to my ex about never leaving because I don’t want her hurt,” Rowan University junior Haseeb Bukhari said.

10. When You Need to Practice Self Care

You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. At the end of the day, your mental health surpasses everything else. It’s perfectly okay to tell Jennifer from Physics 101 you’d love to hang out another time. College life screams “tough.” Make sure you show yourself love. “When I decided to go part time to school my roommates were super judgmental about it,” Temple University senior Megan McCreadie said. “I told them it was because I needed to support myself financially, which was part of the truth. However, a lot of it had to do with the depression I was experiencing. I wasn’t able to handle school full time successfully anymore and decided not to be fully honest with them because they were already making my house experience difficult as it was.”

**Updated on December 27, 2017 to include “10 Times You Really Want to Say TBH in College” by Laura Smythe

Molly is a senior (or fourth year, as we like to say) at the University of Virginia studying English and Studio Art. Yes, she's really artsy, and yes, she spends too much time reading and pretending to know a lot about coffee.

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