Over 30 years ago I worked for a curmudgeonly Episcopal priest. Father Campbell was of Scots heritage, although not actually from the auld soil, and I grew very fond of him despite the crusty exterior.
Before I knew him particularly well he informed me he was writing a book. I took the bait and asked what sort of book. He said it was a combination autobiography and self-help book, to be titled “Humility and How I Got It.”
As I listen to or read interviews with sports figures I have noticed a similar use of the word “humble,” as in “I’m just staying humble and doing X.”
“X” may be replaced with things like studying the playbook, working out, or any of the sort of activities one would assume were part of an athlete’s job. After hearing this enough times I realized it wasn’t an isolated instance of someone who just didn’t know what humble means, and began musing over what they were actually trying to say.
I checked whether the meaning of the word had changed while I wasn’t noticing. This is what dictionary.com gave as possible meanings:
1. not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.
2. having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, etc.: In the presence of so many world-famous writers I felt very humble.
3. low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc.; lowly: of humble origin; a humble home.
4. courteously respectful: In my humble opinion you are wrong.
When a guy says in an interview that he is “just staying humble,” the closest possibility is No. 1—he considers that he is being modest.
But almost by definition humility is not something you can attribute to yourself without irony. Clearly something else is going on here. Read more