The word “humblebrag” has been around long enough that even I have heard of it. (Is that a humblebrag?) A collection of examples has been collected in a book that I have not yet read, entitled, “Humblebrag.” The word is common enough that it is even in the Oxford Dictionary, at least in the online edition.
For some reason, I only recently learned the term and, egomaniac that I am, I thought that I had come up with the concept years ago. I certainly had not.
That is probably a humblebrag.
The word describes the craft of hiding a brag about oneself inside a seemingly self-deprecating statement. For instance, if and when I name-drop a famous person and simultaneously mention how nice they were to li’l ol’ me, which is something that I certainly have done, that is a pretty standard humblebrag. A humblebragger gets two social rewards for the price of one: a congratulations for the achievement that they are proud of—and perhaps ought to be proud of, even without the name-drop—and a verbal pat on the shoulder in recognition of their semi-sincere humbleness. “I met Oprah Winfrey once,” is a minor brag that is almost no brag at all, unless the conversation is not “famous people we have met,” but instead it was your reply to, “Have you decided what you’re getting yet? I’m starving.”
“I was hanging out with Oprah Winfrey the other day,” is a big brag if you merely saw her private plane near your gate at O’Hare Airport. We have been taught that people do not like braggarts and that humbleness is a positive attribute to be celebrated.
“I bet Oprah Winfrey tells just about every li’l ol’ barista (like moi) that they make the best (insert name of coffee concoction here).” That is a humblebrag. It rhymes with “Hush now.”
(In full disclosure, I am not a barista, and I have not met or otherwise encountered Oprah Winfrey. I have been in O’Hare Airport a few times and may have bought a coffee there.)
Most of the above was written more than a year ago (“Humble-Bragging and Secret-Keeping”) on the subject of keeping secrets. My thesis then was that if one is asked whether one is good at keeping secrets, there really is no good response to that question. It is a social logic double-bind: If one is good at keeping secrets, there is only one way to prove it—by keeping a secret—and any new acquaintance who might test one’s skill in this realm by sharing a secret is either sharing something not worth keeping secret (“Can you keep a secret? I’ve been wearing blue all week!” “Yeah, um, you’ve worn the same sweater three days in a row.”) or is worth avoiding at the next Anonymity Anonymous meeting. (Friendships offer plenty enough challenging—and rewarding—situations without the addition of tests.)
In a similar vein, one can ask about another person’s bravery; my sad life experience has been that those who tell you spectacular stories about their personal experiences with their own honest-to-goodness bravery sometimes do not show up when needed. (Sometimes they do.) I have been friends with people who have had to dig deep in themselves for physical and emotional bravery—people in the military, a member of the NYPD who was buried in rubble on 9/11—and none of them volunteered any stories. Each of them will more readily volunteer a story about a time he or she had screwed something up before offering one about rescues they had authored.
* * * *
This first appeared a year ago and was revisited in January 2015.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 15 asks, “Today, share something you love about yourself—don’t be shy, be confident!—but that few other people know about you or get to see very often.”
* * * *
Follow The Gad About Town on Facebook! Subscribe today for daily facts (well, trivia) about literature and history, plus links to other writers on Facebook.
And please visit and participate in the Alterna-Prompt, “The Blog Propellant.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.