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I am looking for a commonly used phrase, idiom, or simile that describes people who like to talk (brag?) about their difficulties, especially self inflicted or easily avoidable ones, as if having those difficulties were an indication of achievement or valuable experience.

I think young boys often exhibit similar behavior when they proudly show off their scars, as if getting hurt were a bigger achievement than not getting hurt. The behavior I am interested in is exhibited by adults though.

The word "humblebrag" seems to be in the same ballpark as what I am after, but I think "humblebrag" describes a person who talks about an actual achievement as if it were a problem whereas I'd like to describe someone who talks about an actual problem as if it were an achievement. In a sense, I am looking for the opposite of "humblebrag." (Unfortunately, googling "opposite of humblebrag" didn't turn up anything usable because the results are crowded by people who just want to brag about something and not be humble.)

Thanks!

  • It seems rather than the old timer who proclaims "well in my day, we used to walk to school in 3 feet of snow, uphill both ways," you seem to be looking for a word for someone claiming to have triumphed over potentially non-existent adversity? – samuelesque Nov 17 '15 at 16:16
  • @dotsamuelswan Thanks for the comment. However, the situation I am trying to describe involves real adversity that either could have been avoided or would have better been avoided. – philg Nov 17 '15 at 16:43
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    @Rathony I agree with your first sentence, so let me try to key off of that to provide further explanation. Yes, scars for youngsters are kind of a trophy. Yet if I said to someone above the age of 25 "I'll give you a scar so that you have something to brag about", I think the vast majority of people would run away. So it would seem that from the adult perspective there is something wrong with how youngsters regard scars. I am trying to capture the essence of this wrongness, when similar behavior is exhibited by adults. – philg Nov 17 '15 at 17:23
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    @philg Depends on how you get your scars. I have two nasty scars across my knuckles from taming my childhood pet, a white rabbit named Timmy; he was vicious for a day but became the sweetest creature thereafter. I am still proud of those scars, since I got them doing something that I valued, and would not feel otherwise had I been older. – Anonym Nov 17 '15 at 18:44
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    Would this be an example of what you mean: Bragging about how much credit card interest one was paying? I actually overheard such a "mine is bigger than yours" conversation among three men while waiting for an elevator. – ab2 Nov 17 '15 at 20:38
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An activity closely related to this is sometimes called misery poker. This refers to when two (or more) people are comparing how bad they have it, playing their miseries as you would cards in poker – as in the Four Yorkshiremen sketch that Michael quoted, though in general you don't bluff (much) in misery poker, at least not to the extent the Yorkshiremen do.

The term was in common usage at Swarthmore College when I was there (2007–11). It seems at least somewhat spread beyond that: there's a tvtropes article, and you found a WSJ article. But it's not common enough in print to be in Google ngrams, my officemate who's a Brown alum from the same time period hadn't heard of it, and looking through Google I'm seeing primarily Swarthmore-related results. It seems that non-Swatties likely won't have heard the actual term, but its meaning might be sufficiently transparent to use.


There's also a new version of it that I like a lot: "misery Pokémon." I recently saw it referred to in this recent article from one of the campus papers1, but the first instance I could find was in the 2010 orientation play2, which was probably most students' introduction to at least the name of it. (I'm fairly certain I was introduced to the concept of misery poker by the 2007 version of this play, though it didn't contain misery Pokémon.) There's a video of the play on YouTube, with the misery poker component beginning here and the Pokémon part starting at 1:12:20. They also give passing references to "Trivial Pursuit of Happiness," "Torment Yahtzee," "Bitchy Bitchy Hippos," and "Apathy to Apples."


1. Full disclosure: I was once editor-in-chief of that paper, and my cousin is currently managing editor. It's a perfectly legitimate student paper, it just feels weird not mentioning that. :p

2. I was actually in the audience at that play, but I forgot about it until finding a reference to the clip....

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    You had a campus paper? Luxury! When I went to school we had to chisel articles into the sides of the residence - with our teeth -, and then re-plaster the wall before every issue.... ;-) – Michael Broughton Nov 18 '15 at 18:35
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    (Playing) misery poker is the best answer for me because its meaning is very close to what I wanted to express, it's easy to understand even for people who haven't heard it before, and on top of that it is quite funny. Misery Pokemon, with its "gotta catch em all" connotation, captures perfectly what I wanted to express and I find it very funny. It's a pity that it's not widely used -- maybe we can change that now! :) – philg Nov 18 '15 at 21:23
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Martyr

Usually used in the religeous sense, it can also be used in a less dramatic way

A person who displays or exaggerates their discomfort or distress in order to obtain sympathy: "she wanted to play the martyr"

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/martyr

  • Yes; the ironic or sarcastic sense is ideal. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 17 '15 at 16:41
  • Thanks for the answer! It's pretty good, except that I don't think the people I am trying to describe do this "in order to obtain sympathy." I think they do it to elevate their perceived level of experience, in a sort of "been there done that" sense. – philg Nov 17 '15 at 16:52
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    @philg Collins covers the whole manipulative (and 'likes to talk about' demands some form of manipulation by the speaker) spectrum: martyr: 4. a person who feigns suffering to gain sympathy, help, etc ('perceived level of experience' included) – Edwin Ashworth Nov 17 '15 at 17:01
  • Thanks again Enilorac for this answer; it is very good, the upvotes are well deserved. – philg Nov 18 '15 at 21:25
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Not sure what the word is for it, but Monty Python's "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch absolutely nailed it!


Graham Chapman: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay Gessiah?

Terry Gilliam: You're right there Obediah.

Eric Idle: Who'd a thought thirty years ago we'd all be sittin' here drinking Chateau de Chassilier wine?

MP: Aye. In them days, we'd a' been glad to have the price of a cup o' tea.

GC: A cup ' COLD tea.

EI: Without milk or sugar.

TG: OR tea!

MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.

EI: We never used to have a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.

GC: The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.

TG: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, "Money doesn't buy you happiness."

EI: 'E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN'. We used to live in this tiiiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.

GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! We used to have to live in a corridor!

MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor! Woulda' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

EI: Well when I say "house" it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.

GC: We were evicted from our hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o'clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!

GC: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!

TG: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o'clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.

EI: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing "Hallelujah."

MP: But you try and tell the young people today that... and they won't believe ya'.

ALL: Nope, nope..

  • Terry Jones, not Gilliam. – Umberto P. Nov 17 '15 at 22:14
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    In college we often described this kind of behavior as "misery poker" (tvtropes). I've more recently heard "misery Pokemon" as well (gotta catch 'em all). By the way, this sketch was apparently first on At Last The 1948 Show. – Dougal Nov 17 '15 at 22:34
  • @Dougal - yes, I've seen that clip too - people often forget that Idle and Cleese worked together prior to Python, including both writing with future Goodies members such as Brooke-Taylor on the Frost Report. Seeing Feldman in the mix is a real treat. And Umberto - the script I sourced claimed to be from an instance with Gilliam. Given the number of times it was performed with various players - it's possible. – Michael Broughton Nov 18 '15 at 13:29
  • @Dougal I absolutely love "misery Pokemon"! Unfortunately it doesn't seem widely used (yet?). "Misery poker" on the other hand is reasonably well known, I even found a WSJ article about it. wsj.com/articles/SB124511445043317379 If you post your comment as an answer, I would accept it. – philg Nov 18 '15 at 15:36
  • @philg Sure; I didn't answer because it doesn't seem to be exactly what you're looking for, but here (and I tracked down the source of Misery Pokemon). – Dougal Nov 18 '15 at 18:24
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A good literary exemplar might be the inept clerk Semyon Yepikhodov in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. He is forever bewailing his endless and daily mishaps. Dunyasha says early in Act I,

He’s an unlucky man; every day something happens. We tease him about it. They call him “Two-and-twenty troubles.”

Such a sobriquet seems eminently recyclable.

  • I truly appreciate this literary reference. Unfortunately, I think it fails the "commonly used" criterion, i.e. not many people would understand what I mean by "he is like the inept clerk in The Cherry Orchard." – philg Nov 18 '15 at 15:49
  • @philg But they might well understand "Oh, Karl! Mr. Two-and-twenty Troubles!" – Brian Donovan Nov 18 '15 at 20:20
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Are you looking for the word self-deprecating? This is were people make a negative comment about an achievement in order to not look like they're bragging.

Self-deprecation is the act of reprimanding oneself by belittling, undervaluing, or disparaging oneself, or being excessively modest.

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How about 'grumblebag'?

I just came across it on UD and thought it could be used in the context that was described here?

To complain in a superficial manner, when one is really just boasting.

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