I just wrote an article and mistakenly typed “terrify” instead of terrific. Then I began to wonder about the relationship of these two words given the fortuitous result of my error.
“Terrific” once meant “of terror.” We tend to use words such as “terrify” or “terrorize” now. One who does this is a “terrorizer.” Somewhere along the last 800 years or so the meaning of “terrific” was transmogrified from it’s Indo-European roots to today’s usage of “great” or “wonderful.” We say, “The move was terrific, it evoked real terror!”
Our ancestors would have called us redundant in that usage, if they weren’t so busy fighting Wooly Mammoths with sticks.
My point, which I’d better explain at this juncture, is that the common root was “to shake things up.” Terror shakes us, imposed from the outside (unless you’re a sociopath). Terrific acts shake us in another way, and can be created by us for the benefit of others.
As a leader, a parent, a coach, a role model, we don’t create terrific results by causing terror. That sounds ridiculously reasonable, but apparently it’s not.