Is there a word to describe someone who uses complaints to indirectly brag about themselves?

An example would be

"I hate going to concerts because people start singing and because I have perfect pitch it irritates me."

Perhaps another example might be

"I don't like that video game. It's too easy and I get bored."

The complaint would be in context, like the discussion is about concerts or the game in question, but the person uses it as an excuse to highlight something about which they want to brag.

I don't think I'm looking for narcissism, as it's not necessarily that the person is trying to talk only about themselves, but rather that they specifically use a negative complaint to mask the fact that they are bragging.

Is there such a word to describe this behavior?

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    – Cruncher
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 20:56

4 Answers 4


An applicable neologism is humblebrag, a boast couched in self-deprecation. Henry Alford describes it as the false modesty of a plea intended to be met with both awe and sympathy. Humblebrag is attributed to Harris Wittels, a writer for the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation who Tweets celebrity examples at that handle and has collected them into a book.

A less popular term from a different U.S. sitcom is backdoor brag, from a 2008 episode of 30 Rock. While not as buzzworthy a term, the example used in the episode matches one of yours:

It’s sneaking something wonderful about yourself into everyday conversation… Like when I tell people it’s hard for me to watch American Idol, because I have perfect pitch.”

Update: J.P. Freire in the American Spectator (a politically conservative U.S. magazine) proposes whinebrag, photobrag, busybrag, sorrybrag, and emobrag to capture additional flavors of show-offy self-deprecation. Who knows if any of them will gain currency; he notes the overlap of whinebrag with first-world problems a.k.a. white whines, and the Harvard Business Review lamented the busybrag months ago.

  • thanks this looks pretty spot on, but I find it interesting that these are both recent terms... I wonder if there is a less "coined" word or phrase that still works? Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 22:46
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    @Josh So these newfangled terms aren't respectable enough for you? :-) Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 23:11
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    @Josh The theory is that the rise of blogging and so-called social media, with their methodically curated networks and meticulously crafted online personas, has dramatically increased the visibility of humblebrags. Thus, the public was receptive to the introduction of a new buzzword to denote a known phenomenon— like crowdsource or paywall or any number of others.
    – choster
    Commented Dec 16, 2013 at 23:34
  • good point, I don't disagree, just wondered if there was a word to describe this behavior before these were created so recently, thanks again for your input Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 0:21
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    Marked as answer, however, I think "backdoor brag" is more correct, because like "false modesty", "humblebrag" implies that you're specifically degrading yourself in order to boast. Backdoor brag seems to encompass any type of indirect bragging, which I think is more in the spirit. Funnily enough, this question was posed by my wife, who as it turns out was trying to remember what show she heard it on :) Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 20:40

I think the more traditional terms might be false modesty or false humility, defined as:

Noun: behaviour in which a person pretends to have a low opinion of their own abilities or achievements

Here is an interesting article from The New York Times, which actually uses @choster's term humblebrag in the title.

  • thanks, I thought of this one as well, but although this does align with the insincerity of the person's comment, it isn't always used as a vehicle to brag, more like a cry for attention. In addition, the complaint isn't always self-deprecating, but rather a general complaint about something which allows you to brag about yourself... Commented Dec 17, 2013 at 1:01

How about, 'fishing for a complement" which means to try to get someone to compliment you by either saying how badly you do something, or by interjecting a comment about your ability into a statement where it doesn't really belong.



Taking action to make oneself look more important or better than others.


the action or process of promoting oneself as being powerful or important. "critics accused him of self-aggrandizement"


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