Word of The Month: Humblebrag

David Zapatka

While listening to someone speak self-deprecatingly interspersed with self-directed, attention-grabbing, patting-on-the-back comments recently, a friend leaned over to me and said, “You know, there’s a word for this type of self-indulgent talk.” At first, I wasn’t sure what was being implied but on second thought, I realized there was purpose in the self-deprecating portrayal. The speaker was shedding positive light on self through “side-door” comments. This is how I was first exposed to this month’s word of the month, humblebrag.

Humblebrag /ˈhəmbəlbraɡ/ hum·ble·brag

Noun – an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud. “Social media status updates are basically selfies, humblebrags and rants.”

Verb – 1) Subtly letting others know about how fantastic you are or how your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or “woe is me” gloss. 2) When you, usually consciously, try to get away with bragging about yourself by couching it in a phony show of humility. “She humblebragged about how ‘awful’ she looks without any makeup.” “Your inflatable inner-tube is way cooler than my 80-foot yacht. You get to be so much closer to the water and to nature. I envy you, I really do.”

Etymology – originated from the two English words, “humble” and “brag.” First known use is 2002. A spoof Twitter handle catapulted this very new word into Twitter vernacular and beyond. In 2010, comedian Harris Wittels jokingly made a Twitter handle dedicated to calling out “humblebraggers,” people who publicly downplay an impressive accomplishment in order to get attention. The new word went viral and was soon in our dictionary.

Humblebrag used as a noun:

“At times, the book comes off like a long, rolling humblebrag. Many sections begin with variations on ‘When I was 29 years old and running for Congress …’” or ‘When I chaired the U.S. Ballistics Missile Threat Commission ….’” — Adam Sternbergh

“Comedian and podcast host Marc Maron has so perfected the art of the humblebrag, even his TV alter ego jokes about how young his girlfriend is.” — Ray Rahman

Humblebrag used as a verb:

“People make themselves look smart, humblebragging about reading what’s billed as one of the 20th century’s most difficult books.” — Mark Chiusano

“In the study, college students were asked to write down how they’d answer a question about their biggest weakness in a job interview. Results showed that more than three-quarters of participants humblebragged, usually about being a perfectionist or working too hard.” — Shana Leibowitz

“Beyond the angel’s wings, there was preening and posing and fake modesty, perhaps best represented when he humblebragged to the audience that his ‘One Less Lonely Girl’ choice had ‘come all the way from Sweden just to see me.’” — Ben Fisher

Please submit any experiences with humblebragging or humblebraggarts you would like to share, any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments, to [email protected]