From humblebrag to underbrag

August 16, 2012

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.