The art of the 'humblebrag'

Download Flash Player to view this content.

First aired on DNTO (15/9/12)

"Just filed my taxes. Biggie was right, mo' money mo' problems."

"I hate buying new clothes when I have so many amazing ones in my closet but my pants situation can't be ignored. They are too big!"

"Because I have a pretty face does not mean I'm destined to be an ornament my whole life. I want more than that."


These statements are examples of a "humblebrag," which is using faux humility to cloak a boastful statement. Comedian and TV writer Harris Wittels (whose credits include Parks and Recreation and The Sarah Silverman Program) began noticing this phenomenon on Twitter and began collecting examples. This collection became a new book, Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty.

Wittels is pretty sure that, despite being a lowly TV writer, he coined the term "humblebrag" and believes his definition is the definitive one: "Humblebrag is a specific type of brag that masks the boasting part of a statement in a faux humble guise," he told DNTO host Sook-Yin Lee. His theory is that we use humblebrags because outright bragging isn't generally considered socially acceptable. So cloaking it with humour and self-deprecation "allows the offender to boast about their achievements without any sense of shame or guilt."

Wittels noticed that several conventions have emerged as humblebrags have become more commonplace, such as adding hashtags like #Awkward or #Weird" when humblebragging. Humblebragging is largely an online phenomenon, but Wittels notes that it's entering regular social situations as well -- and this is why it bothers him so much. "What it potentially does is create this acceptable narcissism that pervades society," Wittels said. "There's a lot of self-promotion amongst the people that humblebrag and sometimes you just want to have a normal conversation with someone instead of them making you feel bad about yourself."

Wittels is okay with self-promotion and understands that it's an important part of social media and career-building. He does it himself, promoting the shows he works on in hopes of improving ratings. But he would much rather see a straightforward brag or promotional update that sounds authentic rather than a humblebrag. Humblebrags, Wittels argues, have a two-fold purpose: to showcase the bragger's humility and to make the people hearing it feel bad about their own lack of accomplishments. So don't qualify it. Just put the brag out there and be proud of what you've achieved.

"If you're going to do it, just outright brag I say," Wittels said. "Don't cloak it in this fake humility. No one is buying it and it just bums everyone out."

Related links: