As one might guess, a humblebrag is one who uses a pretense of humility as a vehicle for boasting. This word can be found at Urban Dictionary but, it appears, nowhere more authoritative. Yet, of course, the concept is neither new nor esoteric; and one would expect there to be a word to cover it. Of course, we have the idea of false humility and could speak of one who is falsely humble or who is guilty of false modesty.

But isn't there a noun to denote the person who behaves in this way, and an adjective to describe him?

  • 2
    Demanding a single word for a concepts is misdirected. Sure it'd be nice, but a multi-word description works just as well. I mean, ow did people survive before that word was coined?
    – Mitch
    Jan 6 '13 at 19:59
  • 1
    There's an interesting entry for humblebrag at Wordnik. It shows a few contemporary uses, yet the word also shows up on these lists: Outcasts (Words that people on Twitter don't think are words), and New and Unholy Coinage (21st century coinage; any strange words seen on TV or heard from irritating young people). Oh, well; I'm sure it's not the first word to start with such wobbly beginnings.
    – J.R.
    Jan 6 '13 at 20:55
  • 1
    What does “lexically recognized” mean?
    – tchrist
    Jan 6 '13 at 20:59
  • OK, if there is no single, longstanding word for this specific concept, so be it. It just seemed to me not unreasonable to expect that there might be. After all, we're not always limited to designating a person or trait using a selection of adjectives and nouns rather than a single, specific, powerful word.
    – Rick
    Jan 6 '13 at 21:51
  • 1
    The earliest reference I can find is 21 April 2011, so it's new. But the word isn't going to get into dictionaries without becoming established first. Use it!
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 7 '13 at 0:17

A term you might consider if you want to appear modestly learned is Aristotle's eirôn, a noun variously translated as ‘the mock-modest’ or ‘the self-deprecating’ or ‘the reserved’. Aristotle describes the eirôn as more acceptable than the alazôn, ‘braggart’ or ‘exaggerator’ but not so admirable as the truthful man:

Mock-modest people, who understate things, seem more attractive in character; for they are thought to speak not for gain but to avoid parade; and here too it is qualities which bring reputation that they disclaim, as Socrates used to do. Those who disclaim trifling and obvious qualities are called humbugs and are more contemptible; and sometimes this seems to be boastfulness, like the Spartan dress; for both excess and great deficiency are boastful. But those who use understatement with moderation and understate about matters that do not very much force themselves on our notice seem attractive. And it is the boaster that seems to be opposed to the truthful man; for he is the worse character. —Nicomachaean Ethics, IV, 7

Eirôn gives its name to irony; the word itself doesn't appear to be in the dictionaries, but it had considerable currency in the LitCrit industry for the generation after Northrop Frye made the term central in The Anatomy of Criticism (1957). You'll find it in Abrams and Harpham, A Glossary of Literary Terms. Here's a modern history of the term from a 1991 work, The Critical Mythology of Irony.


The Wiktionary definition of humblebrag is:

An ostensibly self-deprecating statement made to show off.

A London Evening Standard article says:

Meanwhile, the "humblebrag", where users take a "What, little me? How can I have won another award?" approach, has been exposed for what it really is: showing off under a façade of humility.

So you could just call them a show-off, boaster, or bragger, because despite any vaneer of humility the point is they are still showing off, boasting, or bragging.

There's nothing wrong with the false modesty of the falsely modesty. A New York Times article on the humblebrag uses the following terms to describe it and its users:

False modesty, faux humility, sophisticated braggers, bad manners, self-deprecating boast, the attention- starved, bragging, falsely modest statements, falsely modest people.


While inexact, I suppose that such a person could be called a poseur:

a person who behaves affectedly in order to impress others.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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