The Meaning of Words

the meaning of words

“You know what I can’t stand?” a food writer recently said over dinner. “How many people feel the need to say they’re honored and humbled whenever they write about all the great things that happen to them.”

The table of creative types groaned and rolled their eyes in agreement.  I sat in stunned silence. What’s so wrong about the words honored and humbled?

Another friend added, “I understand if you’ve got lots of great things going on in your life. But don’t waste our time with honored and humbled when a simple thank you would suffice.” Conversation faded to the background. My mind spun. What about these two words could be so offensive?

The more I thought about it, I realized what my friends were really saying wasn’t that the words honored and humbled are bad. Not at all. What they were complaining about was how those words had become trite. But why had so many people (even people like me) used “honored and humbled” so much? Those questions got me thinking about what might really be going on.

What’s the big deal?

It seems that whenever the words honored and humbled appear online, they tend to be followed by a brief announcement of some personal success. If you’ve ever followed @humblebrag on Twitter, you’ll see my friends aren’t alone in noticing a trend in how people communicate good news online.  Some people honestly mean what they say, while others use words like honored, humbled to subjugate a self-congratulatory agenda. Unfortunately, for those who use this phrase often, the predictability of the combination of words has become so clichéd, honored and humbled hold no truth within them any more.

The struggle between balancing core values and a public persona has many of us bloggers scrambling for words that will protect our sense of identity. But the thing is, no matter how humble we may be, the instant transfer of important and mundane details of our daily lives to hundreds, thousands, or millions of followers on Twitter automatically qualifies us as social media show offs. No matter what words we use to try to ease our discomfort in our situation, the truth of the matter remains, our relationship with social media has many of us experiencing an identity crisis.

The meaning of our words

Now that public missives of 140 characters can reach thousands in just seconds, we’re seeing an entirely new form of information sharing and chit-chatting with friends. Because we are able to talk to thousands of people with just one post or status update, we’ve had to toss ancestral principles of modesty and humility in order to embrace a culture of public expression and self-promotion.

A growing majority of Americans using social media (more than 400 million users) has our nation taking a crash course in the very public art of online communication. People who would have never considered the act of self-promotion an attribute worth cultivating have joined the social media flock. Rather than be left behind, the modest types have ignored the pull of their moral compass in order to maintain their place in the modern world.

George Orwell wrote an essay about the deterioration of language in 1945, entitled “Politics and English Language”. In it he wrote that certain convenient phrases are “a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow.” I believe that clichés and ready-made phrases like “humbled and honored” are just the pill many bloggers depend on to continue. I believe that for many bloggers trite phrases help speed up the process of publishing and help to sugarcoat things when we need to make self-promotion more appetizing.

“Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer.  It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable…The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy…If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious.

People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying…if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.” — George Orwell

Writing and maintaining a blog is a tricky thing. Though it starts as a solitary art form, everything goes public the moment we hit publish. Our private thoughts, images, and recipes are made available to anyone one who chooses to tune in. Whenever we blog, Tweet,  or update our fan page on Facebook, we engage in self-promotion.

So let’s not dance around the subject or pretend that what we’re doing isn’t a form of personal advertising. We need to talk honestly about what we’re doing, rather than rely on an easy way out through cliché.The essential truth is this: we can’t relinquish our power over words for the sake of ease. To quote Orwell, “The worst thing one can do with words is to surrender to them.”

Don’t surrender

Ever since starting this blog in 2007, I’ve worked hard to use the words available to me as best as I can. If I can’t come up with something good to say, I hold my tongue and wait for inspiration to strike. When the good ideas arrive, I spend a lot of time with them. To be truthful, I labor over my words until I have a post I can be proud of. I write and write and write and then slay my darlings* so that reading isn’t a chore. At least, that’s what the hope is.

So when I found out that I had received enough votes to qualify me for the nomination for Best Writing Voice. I was full of joy and gratitude. I felt so grateful to be nominated and happy to know that people within the Foodbuzz community cared enough to cast votes for me. I can honestly say that I’m really proud to have been nominated in this category, especially since I’m in the same category with other great writers, especially Greg of Sippity Sup and Linda of Salty Seattle, who inspire me with their unique writing voices.

So, rather than muck things up with humble bragging, I’ll just say this:



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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


  1. October 9

    I’m glad you brought it up. Aside from its overuse (hence, trite). the ‘honored and humbled’ phrase seems irritatingly disingenuous, not to mention lazy, especially when paired with self-advertising–a slippery slope if there ever was one. I (and your readers) surely appreciate the time and labor you put into your writing. I’m voting. Congratulations!

    • October 9

      Thank you, Sally. Posting this one had me hoping other people might feel the same way. Glad we are on the same page (of words)!
      Best, Brooke

  2. October 9

    These some nice words! Congrats and Good Luck. GREG

  3. I loved this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about the same things. I was surprised when I got nominated. In fact I was kind of in denial (maybe because I don’t think I’ll win?!). I didn’t really want to announce it but felt like I should because there are some really nice people who read my blog and are always cheering me on, I felt like they should be a part of the whole thing. So I put on update on my Facebook page and the word I wrote was “honored” because I really did feel honored. I mostly feel honored to be in such good company as Sarah from Peas and Thank You and Ben from You Fed a Baby Chili, because I respect these two bloggers to no end. I’ve heard people complain about the use of the word “Honored” but it seems like they only complain when a woman uses it. Have you noticed that? When a guy blogger uses it it seems like a totally different vibe, like he REALLY means it but when a woman uses it she can’t possibly really mean it. I don’t know, just some thoughts from this whole thing.

    ps. You absolutely have my vote.

    • October 9

      Great points. Interesting extra layer to consider. How one’s sex affects the meaning/value of language. A topic that deserves investigation!
      And by the way, you totally deserve the nomination. You’re incredible.

  4. Another very insightful post Brooke!!! The written word is tricky… there are no visual or sound cues to help the reader along – with Twitter it’s difficult (if not darn right impossible) to discern context and so while someone may use these terms with the best of intentions and meaning, it doesn’t always translate that way. It is truly always a pleasure to read your work and Congratulations once again on your nomination – it is well deserved!!!

  5. October 10

    Honored and humbled by all your lovely words my dear Brooke – whilst we are on the subject how about a few other superlatives get tossed into the mix for the show down? Delicious, amazing, obsessed, so busy and also just the general complaining for the sake of complaining – just a few pet peeves that spring to mind. You already had my vote – but don’t tell Greg! He got my best overall vote instead ; )

  6. Perfect Brooke. You and Lucy spoke volumes for many of us. The self congratulatory business on Twitter is anything but social!

    Although I must admit…sometimes I just want to say something is delicious but stop not because of how so many deign it’s overuse…and then use it anyhow because it’s what I mean doggone it!

  7. October 10

    you should feel honored, humbled, grateful, and list goes on. you are a great writer and that is worthy of celebration. and for me, so not surprised that are at the top of the list for best writing voice! when your posts arrive in my inbox, it is usally where I go first because I know I am going to read something of value! you have my vote, Brooke. p.s. good for you for not agreeing with your friends and for raising those valuable questions. had you not questioned, you would not have allowed all of us to contemplate and think. x

    • October 12

      Thank you so much Susan! I really appreciate the time you give to reading my posts and leaving such insightful comments. They always make my day!

  8. October 10

    Brooke, I have enjoyed your blog for a long time because you are a gifted writer, but my blog comes from the viewpoint of someone who is trying to make a difference, but I’m an artist, not a writer…and my blog is not driven by words.

    Since I don’t craft words as well as writers and journalists, I guess that sometimes I fall back on what I think I should say. When I was recently nominated for something , I did fall back on “honored”. If I was speaking from my heart, I would have said, “totally shocked”, “dumbfounded” and “you’ve got to be kidding me”! All true, but it just didn’t sound appropriate to me given the situation.

    If I ever get nominated for anything again, I’ll heed the warning and figure out something else to say…thanks for giving me a new perspective on this issue.

    I won’t be critical regarding what you say when you win this (because I’ll be voting for you) so feel free to go ahead and be honored.

  9. Until reading your post, I’d never thought about how those words are used, but after thinking it over (I read a few hours ago, sat back and thought about the topic, and then came back to comment) now I see why it irritates some. It seems those words have become a mask to brag about one’s achievements – Especially with social media where we only have a few characters. If people want to tell of their achievements, why not just come out and say it. In my opinion, it’s better to do that then dress it up with “honored and humbled”.

    I also struggle with even mentioning my achievements via social media. When my book came out I think I mentioned it 2-3 times and was worried that others would think “that was all I was talking about”. I actually asked a friend if it was “too much” and she said in her opinion, I’d “barely mentioned the book.” I guess I’m paranoid. 🙂 Sometimes good things do happen and I want to tell everyone, but then I take a step back and think “Wait, that’s not me. I wouldn’t just walk up to a friend and tell her all of my achievements.” But then, social media is there for a reason and it is a great place to promote your brand or mission. So I’m caught in the middle.

    Btw, I’m so excited for you and your nomination!! You’ve got my vote. 🙂

    • October 12

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m so happy to hear that my essay made you push your chair back and THINK. Not many people care to take time out of their day (or thinking) to chew on a philosophical question such as “what are the meaning of our words in a time of social media?” I’m truly blown away to have such smart, thoughtful friends and readers.

      Thank you for your thoughts, words, and support.


  10. October 11

    I am so proud of you for the important FB nomination. You speak powerfully and with great regard for yourself and others. I always look to you for wisdom & great times 🙂
    Humbled, what not. I can’t over think each & every word. I just have fun & go for it!!

    You got my vote sistah!

  11. October 12

    hi brooke, i just discovered your blog and am very happy to become one of your readers. this post is amazing and your intelligence is refreshing. now i will go explore your blog. 🙂

    • October 12

      Thank you. I’m glad you stopped by. I hope you enjoy your look around!

  12. October 13

    Love that you pulled context from the past & ou used slay your darlings. One of my favorite descriptions of the slash-hack process. Also find it funny that we were worried over half a century ago about the demise of well-spoken language. I can only imagine what will lass for a sentence in a hundred years, not to mention what twitter’s done to eviscerate it. Oh and re the awards, let’s just call me funny & you the writer, k? 😉 <3

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