I wonder how common the word hubris is in spoken language. Does it sound hubristic to use it in an informal context?

In Italian we don't have such a word although in specific contexts one can use hybris as the ancient Greek term.

  • 21
    Certainly not as common as the characteristic.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:31
  • 1
    It is fantastically popular in comedy circles.
    – Willtech
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:05
  • 2
    It's highly uncommon in spoken language. So much so, that I have no idea how the word is pronounced; though I've read it many times.
    – Aaron F
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:54
  • Common enough that most people know what it means. I've used it in speech before. Not all the time of course, but when the shoe fits...
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 19:10
  • 4
    It doesn't sound hubristic but rather pompous or recherche or preening. Showing off without any point.
    – smci
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 23:42

4 Answers 4



would stick out very uncomfortably in informal speech, and is pompous sounding even in academic writing. Even if a word is highly used, or rarely, it will still have other features like vulgarity/tabooness (like very common swear words), technical context (carburetor), or, as in this case, register (like perhaps or indeed). That is to say that frequency isn't the only thing that gives a word color or appropriateness.

As a style recommendation, I would not recommend using the word hubris around your football hooligan comrades, they might make you pay for the next round. And unless your tea party pals are discussing Greek tragedy, it make a monocle or two drop. But it's totally on for the crossword gang.

As to its frequency though in writing, here are the words of mostly equivalent frequency:

impasse imp immerse ilk humerus hubris honeydew homophobia hindrance hiker highfalutin

These terms are all easily recognizable by adults. They are not rare, but they are also not everyday words (hiker seems out of place here, I'd expect that to be much more common). These words are more educated, like impasse, humerus, and hindrance.

For perspective with the corpus used, these are around the 20140 index of frequency, where the list starts:

  • 1: you, I, the, to, a
  • 1000: plenty, guilty, jerry, fired
  • 10,000: unorthodox, trusty, trough, trolly
  • 15,000: forger, fictitious, fizz, feasible
  • 20,147: hubris, honeydew, homophobia, hindrance
  • 30,000: dermis, dermatological, deregulation, deputation.

Those at the 30K mark are still very recognizable.

Note the Zipf pattern in action: the less frequent items will have less difference in frequency to the point that many will have the same number of occurrences and then by the extraction method I used, they are sorted alphabetically together.

This short list was created using word frequencies from https://www.researchgate.net/project/Word-prevalence-measures-for-62K-English-lemmas. The source doesn't have to be terribly accurate; a lot depends on the corpus but presumably with a large enough corpus a difference of one or two mentions may put you in a not too distant bin.

  • 3
    I guess I must be numbered among the "crossword gang" - I tackle the Guardian crozzie almost every day, and I get quite irritated if I can't finish it on my own. I commented elsewhere re finding hundreds of instances of hubris from site-specific searches of "lowbrow" newspapers such as The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror, but... Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:38
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    ...a site-specific search of theguardian.com claims over 12 thousand hits. Many of them might indeed be from the crossword/word puzzle section, but that would still leave an awful lot that ain't! Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:41
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    @Gitana As you well know, half of English is Latinisms and Hellenisms, but that tends well to the educated side. But the cognates in Italian won't have the same implications as to register, won't sound as highfalutin.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:47
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    I use it unselfconciously, but only in reference to an action that did indeed result in one receiving their comeuppance. For unconsummated doom, I use impudence. But perhaps I'm also in the crossword gang.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 16:08
  • 2
    @Gitana In my head, "impudence" is filed under "describes a thing that a person does" and "hubris" is filed under "desribes a affectation or element of a person's character"… but that's just context and mediocre memory. …
    – Weaver
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 2:01

As noted, its usage has been growing constantly in the English language:

According to Collins Dictionary the term hubris is:

  • Used Occasionally.


  • In modern usage, hubris refers to extreme arrogance that can often cause a person to look ridiculous. It can be applied in situations of business, school, or any social interaction. People might act with hubris if they lead a meeting as though they are completely knowledgeable on information they've never learned. Similarly, a student who believes they are better than everyone else because of a superior test grade would have considerable hubris.

  • The contemporary use of hubris can be applied in any situation relating to overbearing pride. The use of hubris is meant to emphasize just how intense one's arrogance can be. Hubris indicates supreme overconfidence, which in turn can lead to foolishness or even a downfall. An inflated ego is not built on a solid foundation of fact or knowledge; therefore, anyone with hubris tends to isolate or destroy their social standing or relationships. Hubris is never a good thing because it is excessive, damaging pride.


  • 4
    This doesn't really answer the question of how common it is in spoken English, though. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:09
  • @OliverMason - Please see Collins note
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:13
  • @user110518 'top 30000' isn't very informative given that most people's vocabularies have less than that.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 13:22
  • @Mitch - I agree, but I think the informative part is where they say "used occasionally".
    – user 66974
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 13:26
  • 1
    @user110518 'used occasionally' doesn't mean much unless you know what other words are also in that same group, and in the groups 'used often' and 'used rarely' for comparison.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:19

On wordcount, hubris is ranked 39704 of 86800, and is ranked only two lower than shipwrecked.

On Google Ngrams, hubris does show a rising usage trend, with a dip in recent years.

I would say it's common enough that it would be useful to know what it means.

  • 1
    hubristic, the adjective, also shows a very similar trend. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:38
  • Big chunk of rising usage is that "hubris" is mentioned as part of "virtues of a (great) programmer: Laziness, Impatience and Hubris". Note that the link above (wiki.c2.com) is the original first wiki, still around :-) Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 21:11

These days it is very rare to hear the word hubris in spoken English, or even see it in modern writing. Normally these days we usually say pride or arrogance but hubris is occasionally used, specifically because it is something of an archaic term, when talking about people with an established record or reputation who it's felt should have known better.

  • 1
    Per this NGram, the word hubris (first recorded use by OED, 1884) has been steadily gaining traction over the past century. It may have come from ancient Greek, but it's actually a relatively modern usage, not "an archaic term". Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:04
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    Google n-grams are based on published books, rather than informal spoken language, so they are not really reliable evidence in this case. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:06
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    @Oliver: The word didn't really exist in English before the OED's first cite (which refers to it as "Academic slang", while providing an "inline definition"), and the next cite isn't until 1923. My "evidence" for the ongoing / rising currency of the term in spoken English is based on a lifetime of using and hearing it - almost exclusively as an "academic" usage when I was a student half a decade ago, but it's well out there in more general use today. Definitely not "archaic", whether you believe that NGram supports my position or not. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:23
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers I've heard hubris used as a spoken word half a dozen times in 30+ years and always when someone is reading it from a text from the first half of last century.
    – Ash
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 12:29
  • 2
    Neither pride nor arrogance is a good substitute for hubris though (says I, a non-native speaker, but I am unusually brave today).
    – pipe
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 15:02

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