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.

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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