As educational psychologist Ruth Coppard suggests, "Some so-called child prodigies are little more than the product of highly ambitious parents. If you've had as much tutoring and practice in a subject at the age of seven as most 19-year-olds have, then there's at least a chance that you'll function in that subject area similarly to a 19-year-old."

Jo Counsell, an educational consultant for NAGC (the National Association of Gifted Children), concedes that such parents exist. "But because we are a support organisation, they don't tend to approach us. Most of our parents are quite the opposite - embarrassed to be calling us at all." In fact, she says, there may be many "undiscovered" gifted children in the UK because of such embarrassment - or simply a lack of recognition. "Teachers may fail to pick up on gifted children, perhaps because they feel their duty lies with the least able youngsters in the class," she adds.

Gift rap

I got a little confused. The writer says "they don't tend to approach us" and the opposite is "they feel embarrassed to be calling us at all". It seems to me they don't conflict with each other. They are just the same!

Why use the progressive to "call"?

Besides, what is the usage and meaning of "at all" here? It's not used in a negative sentence or a licensed negative sentence as usual.

  • I think the opposite here is not the opposite of not approaching us, but that of approaching us. It contrasts with tend to approach us, not the whole don't tend to approach us. The opposite here makes the statement stronger, not contradicting it. – user1513 Jun 15 '14 at 19:02
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    @Fantasier: Nah. I think it's pretty clear that most of NAGC's clients are quite the opposite of such [highly ambitious] parents. Presumably what Counsell means by "we are a support organisation" is we're here to help people experiencing difficulties. Those "pushy parents" aren't so likely to see themselves as needing help with unexplained difficulties raising their child. They're more likely to be badgering TPTB in a prestigious college to let their "gifted" child start a degree course at age 10. – FumbleFingers Jun 15 '14 at 20:18

An expansion:

Jo Counsell ... concedes that such [highly ambitious] parents exist. "But because we are a support organisation, [such parents] don't tend to approach us. Most of our parents [i.e., the ones who do approach us] are quite the opposite [of the aforementioned such parents] - embarrassed to be calling us at all."

She's saying that highly ambitious parents who push their children hard don't generally contact her organization. The parents she does encounter generally have the opposite temperament. The parents do who call are shy, not pushy, reticent, etc. instead of outgoing, ambitious, eager, and so on.

Embarrassed to be calling us at all is an afterthought or parenthetical remark which describes the parents the organization interacts with, and is used to help determine what's being opposed. You can read at all here as for any reason or no matter what. Without this phrase, it would be more difficult to know exactly how the parents who call are the opposite of the highly ambitious ones: are they not ambitious, or are they simply more likely to call these kinds of organizations?

The parents are embarrassed despite the fact that they're calling because their children are gifted (which is something to be proud of). Likely they are experiencing some problems helping or dealing with their child's talents and this makes them feel ashamed. Or, perhaps they feel there's some stigma associated with the organization because it focuses on support, which causes the parents to infer (rightly or wrongly) that there's some sort of weakness or inability in them or their children.

Whatever the reason, at all emphasizes embarrassed, telling us that the strength of the feeling is significant. This makes it all the more unusual. A little bit of embarrassment might just be the result of a healthy dose of humility on the parents' part, but what's happening here goes beyond that. At all makes us sit up and take notice by saying, "Yes it's strange, but these parents are really quite embarrassed about this."

  • I read this article from an old magazine. The notes in it said at all was used for emphasis in an affirmative sentence, meaning "really" or "indeed". Is that right? @Esoteric Screen Name – Kinzle B Jun 16 '14 at 12:56
  • Yes, that's correct, though it isn't the only meaning of the phrase. It applies to some extent here. In this case, at all is used for emphasis, but I would not say it means really or indeed. Those meanings emphasize the calls, suggesting that they're rare or that the parents very often are barely to make them. Here, the emphasis is on embarrassed, because the focus is on the contrast between it and ambitious. Embarrassed to be calling us really/indeed is at best an odd thing to say in this case, because there's not really anything for it to agree with. – Esoteric Screen Name Jun 16 '14 at 14:53
  • The notes were written in Chinese. I think who wrote them had an excellent command of English. Maybe I just didn't translate it too well. "Surprisingly, those parents feel embarrassed when they are calling", is it the intended meaning? @Esoteric Screen Name – Kinzle B Jun 16 '14 at 15:06
  • That's the gist of it, yes. The embarrassment is unusual both because of its non-trivial extent and because having a gifted child is not typically a source of embarrassment (even indirectly). Also, I think your translation is almost certainly spot on. What you wrote is absolutely a valid and sensible use of at all. – Esoteric Screen Name Jun 16 '14 at 15:09

I agree with BobRodes that this is expressed with colloquial looseness. But I think that what has happened is that Ms. Counsell has omitted the polar terms in the “opposition” she discerns. What she probably means is something like:

Most of the children we see have parents of a quite different sort. They tend not to approach us; if they call us at all, they are more embarrassed about asking for help from a ‘support’ organization than they are eager to promote their children's achievement.


It's a bit carelessly worded, as spontaneous statements made in conversation often are. I can understand your confusion.

The underlying meanings that I'm seeing are that some parents tutor their gifted children, but most parents do quite the opposite. Those parents feel embarrassment about having their child singled out. Those who tutor their children tend not to contact the NAGC because it is a support organization, and those who do not don't contact the NAGC either because they are embarrassed.

So, when she says "quite the opposite", she's referring to the fact that some parents tutor their children, and some do quite the opposite. She's not referring to the fact that neither group contacts her.

"embarrassed to be calling" has the idea of "If they were calling us, they would feel embarrassed."

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