This one came back to the top of my list after Adele's acceptance speech at the Grammy's a few weeks ago, and then again after watching the Oscar's last night. This faux pas seems to be gaining steam over the past few years. My theory is that it started out as a very purposeful misuse of the word, but as it has been misused more often in very public settings, others have accidentally or ignorantly followed suit.
When you win a major award such as a Grammy, Oscar, Super Bowl MVP award, or Nobel Prize, you are not 'humbled'. You are 'honoured'. The Atlanta Falcons were humbled when they blew a 28-3 third quarter lead in this year's Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. Jean Van de Welde was humbled on the 18th hole of Carnoustie in the final round of the 1999 Open Championship when he shot a triple-bogey when he knew all he needed was a double-bogey to clinch the title.
Let's start with the definition of 'humbled':
humbled past participle, past tense of hum·ble (Verb)
Lower (someone) in dignity or importance: “I knew he had humbled himself to ask for my help”.
Decisively defeat (another team or competitor, typically one that was previously thought to be superior).
Matthew Hutson at The Atlantic seems to agree with the first part of the my theory, anyway:
Winning an award is about the least humbling thing in the world, and yet when people receive an Oscar or some other illustrious honor, they often say they feel “humbled.” Really, what winners feel is immense pride—and immense fear of being seen as prideful—and so they cover for it by saying they feel the exact opposite, humility. No one wants to come across as cocky.
I believe that is how it started. It was originally done to cover up how proud someone was of themselves. Now, I believe that a lot of people don't know the difference anymore because of all the misuse. Much like many people don't know the difference between ironically and coincidentally due to their ever-compounding misuse. I'm not sure which is worse: doing it on purpose, or not knowing the difference.
This same topic was covered a few times on one of my favourite podcasts, Hello Internet, dating back to episode 14. I'm totally with Brady on this one.
Next time you receive some great compliment, win an award, or are generally recognized for some achievement, remember, you should be honoured.