Can We Please Retire The Term “Humblebrag”?


Humblebrag — a term coined by Parks & Recreation writer Harris Wittels who has since written a book about it — needs to be put to bed. While originally a cute and funny way to pick at the egomaniacal rich and famous, humblebrag has recently taken an excessive turn. Nowadays, it seems like whenever anyone displays an iota of self-esteem, people are quick to jump on them and scream, “OMG, humblebrag, seriously.” I mean most of the time it’s not even used correctly!

Humblebrag is an interesting reaction to a combination of things going on in our culture right now. Ever since the recession hit in 2008, it’s been considered almost taboo to be doing well. We’re all supposed to be struggling and eating ramen while sitting Indian-style in our parents’ basements and ruminating about the sad state of our lives. And if we’re not, we’re labeled a stuck-up asshole.

Twitter, in particular, has become a platform for self-deprecating humor. People have built their personal brands around jokes about how they have no job and no relationship — which is great, comedians have been doing that for years and often to hilarious effect — but I think it speaks to where we’re at right now when it’s more socially-acceptable to tweet some variation of “I hate myself and want to die” than it is to tweet a piece of good news. Success has become the ultimate scarlet letter of our generation.

That being said, the genesis of humblebrag did come from a very real and funny place. Celebrities and garden-variety assholes have been humblebragging their way through life forever and now there was finally a clear and succinct way to call them all out on their bullshit. False modesty has always been annoying. It’s like nails on a chalkboard whenever someone fishes for compliments and I’m glad we, as a collective culture, are finally putting those bozos in their place. From that, however, the meaning of humblebrag has become bastardized and morphed into a blanket term for whenever someone says anything remotely positive about their life.


“My boyfriend has really long nose hairs.”

Response: Geez, humblebrag much? We get it!!! You have a boyfriend.

Celebrity tweets about being at any award show

Response: Wow, what a humblebrag. I mean, I get that you’re nominated and everything but you might want to take it down a notch. You sound REALLY conceited right now.”

Okay, obviously these are very fake and extreme examples but my point is this: False humility will always be a no-good-awful-terrible thing, regardless of the current unemployment rate and economy. But let’s not get carried away here. We’re becoming a culture in which being in love and/or having a great job is something we should be ashamed of. We’re so fearful of coming off as insensitive to our peers that we’re inclined to keep our mouths shut whenever we reach some modicum of success. And that’s not okay. What we have done to humblebrag is not okay. For that reason, I suggest we send that spiteful bitch into retirement pronto and just go back to calling these false modesty people by their original name: assholes. 

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