“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.”
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: