From humblebrag to underbrag

We are, it seems, mired in a culture of bragging. The traditional form took a twist with the humblebrag, a boast veiled in fake humility (and showcased to hilarious effect on Twitter). Now we have the underbrag, a far subtler way for us to show off. Sort of.

Jen Doll believes that the humblebrag’s moment has passed. Introducing the underbrag in the Atlantic Wire as the brag that “doesn’t care what The Man thinks”, she says it’s:

when you brag your own disaster or situation that one would not normally brag about. Skilled underbraggers can get away with doing so because the underbrag is not fake like the brag brag; it reveals intimate life details that are interesting and probably even embarrassing . . . . Part of the twofold power punch of the underbrag is what it demonstrates about the person who can get away with it. It is a sign of both authenticity and enthusiasm. And power. If you can underbrag and not get fired, grounded, or shamed into brag-bragging, you are a force to contend with indeed.

For example: Wow, my bedsit is a real pigsty. Or: I’m totally reheating yesterday’s toast for my dinner. The underbrag is a lousy brag, a brag that shouldn’t be a brag. It is, Doll contends, “not really a brag at all—except for the fact that the underbragger is bragging about it and therefore changing the rules of bragging as we know them.”


On a side note, you might have noticed two examples of contrastive reduplication in the quoted excerpt above: “not fake like the brag brag”; “shamed into brag-bragging” – brag-bragging being normal bragging, in contrast to these modish spin-offs.

Emily Brewster also used contrastive reduplication in the tweet that tipped me off: ‘All this talk about new words, but my fave new NEW word is “underbrag.”’

What other forms of bragging are there? Bumperbrag could be a brag on a bumper sticker. Mumblebrag, mumbling a brag so you seem coy about something but really you want someone to ask you to repeat it, louder, or to brag on your behalf. Examplebrag, using examples to show off. Umm. I’d better stop there.

Update: On Twitter, Angela Tung tipped me off about a new kind of brag via Anil Dash: disclosurebrag.

15 Responses to From humblebrag to underbrag

  1. John Cowan says:

    Boy, I really can’t think straight, can I.

  2. Diane Nicholls says:

    ‘Bragarb’ – where one brags about one’s skill at palindromes?

  3. Stan says:

    John: That could be a bumblebrag.

    Diane: I like it. And it echoes braggart.

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    How about blogbrag? Also Diane’s suggestion was redolent of an undergarment, non?


  5. Ado_Annie says:

    There is always the begbrag where someone prods you into telling a story about something that happened to them (because you tell it so much better than I do) that ends up being a brag story on them.

    But then I am from Texas; we haven’t met a brag we couldn’t beat with a better one. Even if it’s not worth bragging about.

  6. Stan says:

    WWW: The clothing connotations of bragarb hadn’t occurred to me – so much hinges on that g at the fulcrum. A double-g alternative, braggarb, points more obviously at the analogy with braggart; both appeal to me in their own way. So does blogbrag, which has a nice symmetry.

    Ado_Annie: Begbrag is a good one. And if someone begbrags repeatedly, you could say they’re nagbragging. Thanks for the link: it gave me a laugh! Boys really will brag about anything.

  7. aparnauteur says:

    How about this for an underbrag? I am a stickler for cleanliness; I do my laundry at least one in three weeks.

    As far as other kinds of brags, I can think of grammarbrag: The one who keeps correcting your grammar under the pretext of doing you a big favor

  8. Stan says:

    aparnauteur: I think the second part (“I do my laundry at least once in three weeks”) suffices for the underbrag, and it’s a good one. The first part, about being a stickler for cleanliness, merely introduces an element of delusion.

  9. aparnauteur says:

    Now, that I read it again, I think it makes sense. Thanks for the suggestion!

  10. alexmccrae1546 says:

    I’m currently reading politically leftist professor Mike Davis’ “City of Quartz”, his early 1990’s fascinating multi-layered historical/ political dissection of Los Angeles from its humble Alto California Mexican pueblo beginnings centered around downtown’s Olvera St., thru to its eventual meteoric rise in personal fortunes, regional hegemony, and massive population growth, becoming the thriving, multi-cultural, 3-million-plus teeming metropolis it is today.

    In Chapter 1, p. 83 of his book, I came upon Davis’ term ” ‘brag books’ “, essentially a kind of niche genre of PR literature whose prime purpose was to attract prospective newcomers to California, and make the purveyors, (and their sycophants, and hangers-on) of this promotional propaganda even richer than they already were. Reenforcing that old pioneering adage, “Go West, young man.”

    Davis writes: “There in no hint of class or racial violence (in these promo tracts)*, nor for that matter, any historical casualty other than seminal individuals attempting to materialized their dreams. It is an account that begs comparison to hagiographic ‘brag books’— so common in the early twentieth century– that depict local history as the heroic activity of the ‘leading men of business and industry’.”

    ‘Brag books’, indeed. (Talk about calling a spade a spade.)

    In the opening chapter of his book, Davis talks-at-length, specifically about the early Los Angeles-based “booster” set— those generally very wealthy, powerful, politically connected L.A. movers-and-shakers like ‘The L.A. Times’ publisher, Otis Chandler, and self-appointed west-coast Brahmin, Charles Fletcher Lummis, who saw, particularly in their beloved Southern California, the next Promised Land; a potentially prosperous mecca for schemers, dreamers, and entrepreneurs of every conceivable stripe…… but preferably of Anglo-white-bread stock. (Jews, Mexicans, and Black folk need not apply.)

    Xenophobia/ nativism was alive and well in the Southland back then. Alas, nothing much has really changed in that regard, in over a century.

    So in light of this turn-of-the-century guilting-the-California-lily (or more aptly, perhaps, our bright orange native California poppy), churning out in print, and on celluloid, a highly romanticized picture of California— as some beckoning, seductive paradise by the Pacific, we could coin the term ‘boosterbrag’; which, in a sense, amounts to a double brag, of sorts, since boosterism is essentially just another form of bragging.

    Basically the overzealous ‘booster-braggart’ has been seduced by his own ‘hype’, and is often unaware of his blatant braggadocio; hence that little smidgen of irony that makes these ‘brag’ words seem to work so well. (Or maybe they’re too well aware of the ‘hype’, but just don’t care to admit it.)

    Perhaps all THAT was a rather verbose way of trying to make a simple point. Oh well.

    *(the brackets and content are mine…. not the author’s)

  11. Stan says:

    A very interesting note, Alex. Thanks. I’ve come across the term brag book once or twice before, but meaning parents’ photo albums of their children. I wonder if the hagiographic version preceded it.

  12. Ado_Annie says:

    Bragbook! I should have remembered that. Here in my part of Texas a bragbook is what a grandmother carries around to show off snaps of her grandkids. Somehow it is more ok to brag on the grandkids than it is to brag on your children.

    @alexmccrae – reminds me of a story my mom told me, her first job at 16 (back in the early 40’s) was running an addressograph machine (a kind of typewriter that stamped out metal plates with a name and address to quickly print off envelopes). She said that the envelopes were stuffed with beautiful brochures touting the wonders of the Texas Gulf Coast where one could grow orange trees and bask in the sun. In reality the land being sold – sight unseen – was rolling salt marsh overrun with vicious mosquitoes. Would that be bragads or brigands?

  13. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Ado Annie,

    Hmm…. curious, no relation to ‘Polk Salad Annie’? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.HA!) Annie… don’t get your gun.

    But seriously, I appreciate your little anecdote from the ’40s w/ your mom, and that novel “addressograph machine”, recounting her teenage experience re/ those local, scheming Texas gulf coast realtors’ deceptive, gussied-up promotion mailers, touting what in reality were tracts of mosquito-infested, steamy, salt marsh; hardly orange grove territory.

    This classic bait-and-switch sales ploy reminds me of the old saw, roughly stated, “Well if you believe THAT, then I have a bridge out in the Mojave I’d love to sell you…. dirt cheap.”

    The classic line credited to the great American showman, P. T. Barnum, comes to mind, i.e., “There’s a sucker born every minute.”. (Not too cynical, eh?)

    As to what we might label that coterie of sleaze-bag, deceptive, ’40s-era Texas gulf coast realtors, IMO, braggarts, and your “brigands” would pretty much cover all the bases. (Stolen bases, at that.)

  14. John Cowan says:

    “Speaking of baths,” said the tramp, “I took one in 1938. Or was it ’48?”

    (I don’t have the heart to update this, so pretend it’s about 1958. If you can.)

  15. Stan says:

    Annie: Yes, bragging is expected from grandparents, but seems to be less acceptable coming from parents.

    “I took one in 1938.” Great example, John.

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