Misuse of the word ‘humble’

Nothing gets my back up more than somebody using the word "humble" to mean exactly the opposite of its definition. The most high profile case of this that I can think of Jonathan Ive saying last year he was "humbled" to receive a knighthood. Today I was reminded of it when I read that Casey Hopkins found it "humbling" that people generously funded his Kickstarter project to the tune of $1.4 million. (apologies, Casey – there are many, many examples of this… yours was just in the right place at the right time to prompt this blog post!)

"Humble" means to have a low estimate of one's importance, or to lack dignity. So to be "humbled", is to feel unimportant as a result of something which may be described as "humbling", or undignifying.

If you were at the top of your game but luck dealt you a bad hand and you ended up begging on the street, that would be humbling. If you were at the top of your game but you spent a few days on the streets to raise awareness for a homeless charity, you may find the experience to be humbling in a rewarding, learning-from-it sense.

But to have your sense of self-importance boosted by being awarded a knighthood, or to have your self-confidence reassured by the support of your peers is the complete opposite.

The only way a knighthood could be humbling is if you thought you deserve to be God, but were only awarded a knighthood.

And receiving $1.4 million in donations through Kickstarter might be humbling if you firmly believed you deserved to reach your target of $10 million.

Actually, I can think of one thing that annoys me more, but you could probably care less…