Heather Roy

1 October 2018

Another award ceremony, another stream of people exclaiming they are “honoured and humbled”. Really?

“Honoured and humbled” has become more than a cliched phrase. It’s become an avalanche triggered by the need for a response to awards and rewards. It’s everywhere – celebrity awards ceremonies, acceptance speeches, thanks given at the beginning of conference speeches and social media announcements in response to an award or public praise.

“Honoured” I understand. It is an honour to be rewarded and publicly praised for something one has done.

But humbled? Humbled infers “I am not deserving”. It implies meekness and modesty.

Humbled is completely at odds with feeling honoured and usually is the last thing the self professed “honoured and humbled” actually means.

Being humble means putting the needs of another person before your own. It also means not drawing attention to yourself, and it can mean acknowledging that you are not always right.

Humbled is when you are fired, and not only are you out of a job, but all those who worked for you are too. Or a more humorous  example: humbled is when someone tries to mug a little old lady who then hits them over the head with her handbag, kicks them in the shin and uses her neck scarf to tie them to a supermarket trolley while they wait for the police to arrive.

‘Humble’ is one of those words that you shouldn’t use to describe yourself. Like ‘trusted’ and ‘respected’ it is much more meaningful when someone else says it about you.

It is a satisfying and deserved thing to feel honoured by the winning of an award, of praise for a job well done, or perhaps even to have been invited to speak in front of an impressive audience. However, let’s not tolerate the false modesty that so often accompanies the compliment. Surely those who have been recognised could find more imaginative ways of expressing their great pleasure at public gratification.  Honoured and delighted; honoured and excited; honoured and grateful – all are acceptable and appropriate use of the English language.  Or, on such occasions, just a simple but sincerely delivered Thank you would suffice.