Silly Means Stupid…

…to a chunk of Nigerians and according to its official dictionary definition. The other day, someone referred to my kids as silly. Was meant to be a compliment but I was a tad conflicted. Had to clarify it was innocuous and tell them it usually has a negative connotation in Nigeria… Didn’t mention the official dictionary meaning though.

That got me thinking of a story a lady proudly shared about a caucasian woman telling her son, when he was goofing off at a kids party, that he’s ‘so silly’. And the son promptly responding, “I am not silly, I am blessed” or something along those lines. The caucasian turned red, the boys mum loudly applauded him and, well I wasn’t there but, I imagine the awkwardness that ensued especially if there was no one available to bridge the cultural gap.


Adjective Having or showing a lack of common sense or judgment; Absurd and foolish.

Noun A foolish person (often used as a form of address).

Somewhere along the line, silly has come to mean being playful, goofy and clownish – in the western world. Parents sweetly refer to their kids and/or their behavior as ‘silly’. Couples call themselves silly. Friends playfully say “you’re so silly” to one another. Dogs call cats silly. OK, you get the gist.

Well, not in Nigeria. If you’re called silly, best believe it’s the true dictionary meaning of the word or worse. ‘Don’t be silly’ is synonymous with ‘you’re stupid’. No jokes.

This is just a minute example of cultural barriers those of us in diaspora face in everyday encounters. A lot of times it blows over but there are times when it affects vital relationships like business, career, education, and most importantly our children.

How we translate cultural awareness to our children is vital and would set them up for mature global interactions. For the most part we (most earthlings) tend to jump to conclusions and assume the worse… Especially if the ‘offender’ is from another race, tribe, etc. Reaction becomes either explosive or internalized. Our children observe it, hear our rants/complaints and naturally adapt the vibes…

My key thoughts are to first teach our children to approach such situations with neutrality. Encourage them to ask for clarifications while pointing out offensive aspects of the interaction. A lot of times, huge issues are diffused this way. Everyone learns something and life goes on… Till the next. Haha. OK, not funny but it’s quite frequent for some.

Sometimes, the opposite occurs. If the offence was indeed intended, hmmm. Adviced reaction should then be dependent on location, offender, and authority in the vicinity. Children do need the confidence to identify, report and react to such occurrences.

Needless to say, we also need to teach them how to react if they are the ‘offender’. They should be able to clarify their thought process and apologize is they did offend. Hopefully they are not picking up racial/tribal slurs from us and innocently repeating. We should also teach them to not deliberately set out to offend others.

Back to the silly example, my kids interpret it positively… Hubby and I have had to intervene when they use it. They are now encouraged to say ‘funny’ instead of ‘silly’.

PS: I sometimes had to bridge the ‘cultural’ gap as my kids played with others in Nigeria and the UK just last December. Was amongst family and friends so mostly positive and enlightening for us all.

Have you had to deal with this? Any advice for us all?


Chimmie Gbugu is the author of two children’s color boardbooks in the Igbo language (Ndu Anyi: Okigbo na Adanze and ABChD Igbo ) and informal teacher on the ‘Akwukwo LLC’ Igbo teaching YouTube Channel. She mothers’ her two active kids plus her newborn baby diligently non-stop; Engineers during the day; Travels far and wide; Bakes & cooks concoctions or rather innovatively; Teaches Sunday school; and is just dabbling into blogging

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