Caitlyn Jenner Humble Brag

13 March 2018

How To Humble Brag (Hint: Don’t Say “Humbled”)

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Guy Honored to be Humble…

Every day I challenge my computer to chess. “Bring it on!” I say. And every day I vow, “Today’s the day I turn the tables on that non-sentient tormentor!” But every single day my computer beats me soundly.

That humbles me.

Sometimes I look in the mirror immediately after a workout and think, “Not bad, old man.” Then I look in the mirror immediately after I wake up in the morning and think, “Age is a cruel mistress.”

That humbles me.

And occasionally I like to read my own writing. Then I read something by Dan Neil or Aaron Sorkin or a typical Wired journalist, and realize I need better verbs. And adjectives. And fewer dangling participles.

That humbles me.

So what really bugs me is when I see people receive a major award or promotion or hall of fame induction, yet their speeches and tweets claim, “I’m humbled…”

Humbled Doesn't Mean ThatReally? That award or promotion or induction humiliated you that badly? Wow, how vicious of those fiends to bring you down to earth like that! You must feel like shoe scrapings at a cattle ranch.

Now, I know these people want to say they’re “honored,” but they also want to sound humble while bragging, so they confuse the words. And it works: confusing “honored” with “humbled” is definitely humbling.

How To Sound Modest Without Sounding Illiterate

A “humble brag” is a boast expressed as a problem. For example, “I have no idea how to manage my fan base. It keeps getting bigger and bigger — what a mess!” Or, “I love both the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class, but can only afford one per year! Help!” Or, “I just got nominated for an Oscar, but FML, I have nothing to wear to the ceremony!”

Yeah, such false modesty is far worse than misusing humbled.

So I submit to you — humbly, of course — three bits of advice:

  1. Whatever honor you receive, go ahead and celebrate it. “Hell yeah, I’m thrilled to receive a Nobel Peace Prize the same year I got voted Super Bowl MVP…” Anything less would make you sound phonier than a Trump University brochure.
  2. Give credit to others, as Oscar winners do. “But first I must thank the following people, without whom I wouldn’t even be here…”
  3. Unlike the Oscar winners, include the most unsung people in your support team. “And here’s to the interns. Even though you didn’t get paid, you know and I know that you did most of the work…” Thanking people who rarely ever get thanked can make you appear both magnanimous and humble. Plus, they usually deserve it. And a paycheck already.

It’s the honorable thing to do.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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Mark Armstrong
6 years ago

I’d like to thank Freddy Nager’s parents, without whom this fine post would not have been possible. Now I must return to the cattle ranch and step carefully… ??


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