In the seventh installment of the MSF QuickCast, I discuss the frequent misuse of the word “humbled” during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speeches on Saturday night and why it’s so important for all of us to take pride in preserving the unique meanings of individual words.
Click play on the player below to listen:
How to subscribe to the MSF QuickCast
- Subscribe to the MSF QuickCast on iTunes.
- Join the MSF QuickCast Email Digest to get an email whenever a new quickcast is posted
- Follow the MSF QuickCast on Twitter or via RSS to get updates as soon as new quickcasts are posted.
- Download this quickcast in mp3 format for later: Right-click this link, then hit “save link as”
For those who would rather read than listen, here is the transcript:
Restoring Some Pride To The Word “Humbled”
This past weekend, seven men were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As is custom, each man gave a heartfelt, often emotional speech that thanked the people who helped him along the way and explicated why becoming a Hall of Famer was so special to him.
Unfortunately, as is also custom at events like these, there was one word in particular so egregiously misused over and over again that someone might as well have just been running their fingernails across a chalkboard right next to my ear.
I’ve written about this before on MSF, and ranted about it on Twitter numerous times, so you may know the word I’m referring to:
Throughout the Hall of Fame speeches we heard phrases like “I stand before you humbled to be joining the rest of the men in the Hall of Fame” and “This is a truly humbling moment.”
The definition of humbled is to lower someone in dignity or importance. The secondary definition is to be decisively defeated.
Granted, I can’t get into these men’s minds and know exactly why they chose the word humbled, but it seems to me that they actually chose a word that means the opposite of what they meant to express.
I believe what they meant to say was “I stand before you proud to be joining the rest of the men in the Hall of Fame” and “This is a truly proud moment.”
Pride is defined as a feeling of pleasure from one’s own achievements. Call me crazy, but that seems like a perfect fit for the moment, whereas the use of humbled seems antithetical.
If they wanted to show honest humility, a line like “I am humbled to be in the presence of so many great players who I looked up to and who built the NFL into the great game it is” would have worked. That would appropriately place the more senior members of the Hall of Fame in a rightful position of greater importance.
But so say you are humbled to be joining them? Technically, according to the definition, that’s an insult.
Okay, so who cares right? Why do I feel the need to be the over-analytical, judgmental turd in the punch bowl when clearly no malicious intent was present?
I’ll tell you why: because words are important, and if their misuse and abuse is allowed to go unchecked, then words lose their meaning and unique ability to describe a particular thought, feeling, or action.
If a word can have its meaning, while also meaning the exact opposite at the same time, what purpose does it serve?
In addition, it’s ludicrous that we demand our athletes and other public figures be so vanilla and politically correct that rather than actually say what they are thinking, they either subconsciously or disingenuously try to mask their true feelings behind words they do not mean.
When I rant about the misuse of the word humbled, and I often do, it’s less about this isolated example and the people I specifically mention, and much more about the larger issue of respecting the power of words and the value of honest communication.
Unfortunately, a great word like humbled being misused over and over again on such a public stage perpetuates its misuse in everyday life by those who were listening and who subconsciously processed the erroneous context of the word without recognizing how much its meaning was bludgeoned by such use.
In this sense, we all have a responsibility to make sure we say what we mean and use words as they are intended, lest we further contribute to the erosion of words’ unique meanings, which in turn makes candid, efficient communication that much harder.
Look, despite this rant, I enjoyed the speeches that were given Saturday night. Watching these men speak with such deserved pride about the difficult obstacles they overcame to achieve their goals was humbling to listen to and consider. This night was theirs, and it was a celebration of their path to reaching the pinnacle of their profession. There is nothing humbling about that.
No, the reality is that there was only one thing humbled on Saturday night, and it was the word itself.
Just consider this quickcast my small effort to restore a little pride to one of my favorite, but one of the most misused, words in the English language.