Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

From a recent article on CNN:

Aboukhadijeh, who is from Sacramento, California, said he's been blown away by how quickly his tool went viral and is grateful for all the supportive feedback.

"I'm amazed and humbled by all the attention it's received. So thank you," he said.

TheFreeDictionary shows the definition of "humbled" as:

hum·bled, hum·bling, hum·bles
1. To curtail or destroy the pride of; humiliate.
2. To cause to be meek or modest in spirit.
3. To give a lower condition or station to; abase. See Synonyms at degrade.

None of these definitions seem to apply:

  1. Being the author of something that is widely appreciated would seem to be cause for pride, rather than to curtail or destroy it.
  2. His "modesty," or expectation that he would only have a small audience for his work, seems to be a pre-existing condition that is merely revealed by the event, not something that is caused by the event.
  3. He created a tool that was rapidly used and appreciated by many, with the result being that he found himself in a higher condition or station than he was before.

Is there a subtlety I'm missing here?

share|improve this question
    
I think it's something you say so that you don't sound stuck-up when you make it big. –  mmyers Sep 14 '10 at 18:51
    
I agree with all of the definitions that have been given - however, the etymology seems backward to me. When did that inversion happen? –  mskfisher Sep 14 '10 at 21:59
    
2nd version of theFreeDictionary is the one used in the article. the event made the person feel meeker/more modest. –  mplungjan Feb 7 '11 at 8:57
    
Someone I know replied to a compliment I gave him by saying he was humbled by it. I was a bit confused which led me to this forum. It's interesting to learn that others feel the same as I do....wondering what got lost in translation. How nice when words are used in accordance with their actual meaning. It encourages good communication, plain and simple. –  user22091 Jun 9 '12 at 13:44

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Mariam-Webster's dictionary lists humbled as "To make humble". Humble is listed as

not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive

which makes a little more sense.

Still though, it's not exactly the clearest of constructions.

I think he's expressing the feeling that the tool and the community surrounding it have become bigger than himself, and he feels lower in station than all the people who took the time to promote/use the tool he wrote.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1, I think the last sentence just about sums it up. –  pkaeding Sep 14 '10 at 16:04
1  
Right, he is saying he feels like he got more attention and support than he thought he deserved. –  Kosmonaut Sep 14 '10 at 16:08
1  
Right, but as I was saying, this seems to be revealing how little he thinks he deserves rather than lowering the actual amount that he thinks he deserves. –  mskfisher Sep 14 '10 at 18:24
    
I agree with the first part of the last sentence: "I think he's expressing the feeling that the tool and the community surrounding it have become bigger than himself" but certainly not necessarily the second. –  mplungjan Feb 7 '11 at 9:00

I don't think it's an expression to be over-analyzed. It's simply a polite, modest way of saying that he was not expecting such a great reception for his work. It's true that analytically what he said is probably not literally what he meant, but being humbled by something seems to mean in this context that something has made you feel a bit undeserving.

share|improve this answer
    
I agree, I'm nit-picking. I know English is full of inconsistencies like these, and I'm interested in figuring out where and when they originate - and whether it's worth it to even worry about them. :) –  mskfisher Sep 17 '10 at 12:16

It's simply wrong to use "humbled" in this context; quit making excuses for it. This word has been misused by so many people - even educated people. I cringe when I hear it. Humbled means to be be lowered. It is wrong to accept a great honor and then say that you were "humbled" by this. Recently a man who was our parish priest at one time was named archbishop of Galveston-Houston. He said he was humbled by this. I can't believe how common this incorrect use of the word has become. It used to be uneducated athletes saying it, now it's a bishop?

share|improve this answer
4  
You're posting as if human beings behave logically. It's perfectly possible to accept an honour, knowing that you probably deserve it, while worrying that maybe you don't, or that maybe you won't live up to it, or maybe even just feeling shy and a bit overwhelmed, and realising how fragile the self-confidence was that you had before the honour was awarded. If you've managed to avoid that feeling then congratulations; you've probably never been surprised by the honours awarded to you. –  Lunivore Mar 4 '12 at 20:01

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 9 '12 at 14:17

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.