I’m so humbled by this honor

Why do people say they are "humbled" when they receive some kind of honor? Is it because they don't want people to know that their inner dialog is all "check me out!"? Or is it because they doubt their ability to live up to the honor? And if the honor is a new job (Supreme Court appointment, for example), does this instill faith in the constituents? What message are they trying to send?

I guess I've always found that word choice to be a little weird. "I'm honored" would be cool with me.

Comments (15)

  1. "I’m so honored by this honor"?

  2. kayvaan says:

    Interesting question. I remember one time I had to write a paper in 8th grade bout the difference between "naked" and "nude". Anyway…

    Saying "I am humbled" is a little more intimate and affecting than "I am honored".

    Humility (the quality of being humble) is something that comes from within. Honor is bestowed from without.

    Thus – by referring to your humility, you are expressing an emotion or an internal condition. That’s more intimate than telling people "you’re honored". For example, if a newly appointed supreme court justice says "I’m honored" – they’re restating the obvious. Of course it’s an honor. But how does it make them FEEL? Humble. Why is that significant? It is a figurative sign of deference. A supreme court justice is figuratively deferring to the people. That’s important. It’s not that they’re saying "I defer to you in matters of judgement". It’s saying "I acknowledge that ULTIMATELY I’m here to serve you — therefore I defer to you" in the abstract sense.

    IMHO. 🙂

  3. Paul says:

    Kayvaan did the nit-picky parsing, which is pretty darn correct, but I would add that how you interpret the word humble (i.e. whose definition you use) also matters.

    Humility in this context generally means gracious, without pride and arrogance, lacking in pretension, etc. which is the sort of respectful feeling of thanks and deference that one would wish from an honoree at this level. She did not mean humbled as in "to eat dirt" or "be forced to perform unnatural acts at Abu Ghraib". There are many meanings and subtleties of usage for humble and humility.

    Would you feel more comfortable and reassured if she said she was feeling quite boastful and proud, prepared to speak with an appropriate air of condescension now that the president has recognized her outstanding competencies above all others in her field?

    Webster (especially online) tends not to be the best source if you want the full tapestry of meaning. Here is an alternate source: http://www.answers.com/humble&r=67

    Of course, she could always start chanting "I’m #1. I’m #1. I’m #1."

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Paul-the college football fan n me would have kind of liked the chanting.

    Paul and Kayvaan, I guess the part I am not seeing is the cause and effect. If someone is humbled BY the honor, what is it about being honored that makes them more humble than they were before?

    By the way, you guys are wordsmiths. Awesome!

  5. Paul says:

    Thank you for the compliments. I humbly accept.

    What is truly awesome, however, is that both of the most recent supreme court picks have direct connections to Redmond. Did you know that Harriet defended Microsoft against a class action suit (Microsoft v Manning, et al) in 1995 regarding MS-DOS 6.2. And Mr. Chief Justice represented the 19 states who petitioned the supreme court in the 2001 antitrust cases against Microsoft.

    Now that is an amazing coincidence. Perhaps Bush really is seeking balance.

    btw, who’s your team?

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Paul-I saw that in the news today. I guess that’s what you call a wash? ; )

    Coincidence? Yes. Balance? Coincidence ; )

    (see who is the wordsmith now? whee!)

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh, and my team is Southern Cal (which is fun to say now after all the "bad years")!

  8. kayvaan says:

    I’m a Berkeley alum myself. So I guess we’ll see who’s humbled on 11/12? 😉

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yes, we sure will!

  10. Mom says:

    Could it be federal judicial nominees use the word humble because they know in the position to which they may ascend, they will be attempting to interpret the words of framers the US Constitution? Now there’s a group in the midst of which most would be humbled!

  11. Heather says:

    Mom, maybe if they are *comparing* themselves to Thomas Jefferson, etc. (which isn’t really necessary since the SCJ role in not as author but as interpreter), but I get your point. How come everyone else is using the phrase too?

  12. matt says:

    I completely agree with kayvaan about honored being bestowed upon a person therefore saying "I am honored" is just stating the obvious..we already knew that the person is honored.  Very true.

    It seems to me that we  REEEAAAALLLY need to update the definition of ‘humbled’ in the dictionary don’t we?

    When people say they are humbled what they actually mean is:

    I am very grateful for this honor (someone has recognized me) and I would like to accept that recognition very thankfully without arrogance.

    Thats what they mean.


    if you look at the actual definition of humbled it just doesn’t really seem to add up to that does it?

    Humbled as a verb means

    a) to lower in condition, importance

    b) to destroy the independence, power, or will of.

    c) to make meek

    d) to be overly submissive or compliant

    That is every definition according to dictionary.com.

    So how that fits in to "I am humbled" is beyond me.

    Heres how it would translate.

    I am "lowered in condition" by this?

    I am ""destroying the will of something" by this?

    I am now compliant (I’m a robot)

    I am submissive now ( I give up)  


    Im lost. 🙂

  13. Ash says:

    Matt, i just stumbled upon this post while i was googling for that exact understanding that you wrote in your comment here! OMG i cant believe that comment…its like you typed out just what my mind was thinking! lol cheers~ btw yeah the dictionary meaning of humble is totally misleading infact completely oppposite to its real usage in life! I mean c'mon you got to update that meaning folks!

  14. KB says:

    One of Matt's definitions is submissive.  The word, when used as a verb, can mean submissive or obedient, so when person says that they are "humbled and honored" it means that they are in a state of submissiveness or obedience to the will of the group that is honoring them.

    Similar to how the word is used as a verb in Philippians 2:8 "And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

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