Ever So Umble
Saturday, 26 January 2013
In the paper today, there’s a picture of Tessa Jowell, receiving her damehood at Buckingham Palace. She looks very nice in a smart red coat and hat, holding up the medal in a silk-lined box, family around in morning suits, camera bulbs flashing. Dame Tessa says: “This is so overwhelming, it’s a most extraordinary honour and I feel really humbled by it.”
It reminds me of the Oscars last year, where Gary Oldman was nominated and said this was “extremely humbling.”
Kevin Pietersen said it was “humbling” when he got a standing ovation for scoring a century.
THAT’S NOT HUMBLING.
NONE OF THIS IS HUMBLING.
THIS IS ALL THE OPPOSITE OF HUMBLING.
It’s an infuriating trend, which is only going to get worse; award winners will soon be saying they feel “humbled by the experience” as often as they salute their fellow nominees or thank their agents. But being HUMBLE is to have a LOW ESTIMATE OF ONE’S IMPORTANCE. Being humbled by someone else means: SOMEONE ELSE LOWERING YOUR ESTIMATE OF YOUR OWN IMPORTANCE. It would be humbling to score 0 at the cricket. To be overlooked for awards. To be ignored in the street by an old friend. To have your trousers fall down on the bus. And various other things that you don’t get a round of applause for. (Though I think I might definitely give someone a round of applause if their trousers fell down on the bus). (Not flashers).
There is a sub-meaning of the verb “to humble” which means “to lower someone’s rank or status”, eg, to take someone’s knighthood away - like, you know, as in, LITERALLY THE OPPOSITE OF BEING MADE A DAME.
Being feted, applauded, honoured, awarded… these things make people feel proud and puffed up! Fair enough. Good luck to them. Nothing wrong with feeling proud of yourself. But they need to stop saying it makes them feel humble. That translates, I think, as: “Today I feel like a big fat royal genius, all amazing and special and better than everyone, but I can simultaneously dispel the jealousy that all the lesser people must inevitably feel, by saying it has brought on a bout of tremendous worthlessness and low self-esteem. Then they will also love me, as well as being obliged to bow and call me Your Grace.”
Well, it’s stupid. Stop doing it everyone. Or keep doing it, for the language must live and change, mustn’t it? And soon the dictionary can carry two meanings of the word “humble”: (1) modest, unpretentious, lowly or abased, (2) feeling like a big shiny great lord of the universe because you just won a thing and everyone’s clapping.