Robert Edsel Is a Little Confused About What ‘Humble’ Means

Words matter.

I’ve written before in this space about people who say they are humbled when they mean the opposite or at least something different. Steve Blow did it. Mike Devlin did it. And now Robert Edsel has gone and done it.

Edsel is the Dallas oilman turned author who wrote The Monuments Men, which became the George Clooney movie with the same title. Last night, at a black-tie gala in D.C., the Foundation for the National Archives gave Edsel its highest honor, a Records of Achievement Award. In a story about the gig, the DMN‘s Michael Granberry quoted Edsel as saying the following:

“It’s a tremendous honor, coming on the heels of Steven Spielberg receiving the award last year. Ken Burns, David McCullough, Tom Brokaw — these are towering figures in the telling of our nation’s history through books, through film. … It’s the most humbling experience of a number of humbling experiences of this new life I’ve had the last 14 years.”

When you take time to put yourself in the context of towering figures, you are not experiencing humility. Now please understand that I am not suggesting that Edsel is a cocky, prideful man. Not at all. I’m just saying that he misused a word that a lot of people seem to have trouble with.

I appreciate your attention to the problem and your efforts to rectify it. Thank you.

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Comments

  • D. Shapiro

    “I am honored.”

  • AeroRazavi

    For all intensive purposes, you knew what he meant.

    • RAB

      You’re wrong, AeroRazavi. The correct phrase is “all intents and purposes.” Irregardless.

  • Brendan McNally

    Give Edsel a break. Speilberg didn’t discover D-Day, Brokaw didn’t discover the Greatest Generation, but Robert Edsel, for all intents and purposes did discover the Monuments Men and the incredible contribution they made to preserving Western Civilization’s heritage.

    • arthist

      Discover? No. Not hardly. The most important (and best) book on the subject is Lynn Nicholas’s The Rape of Europa, published in 1995.

  • vseslav botkin

    Misguided snootery. When someone finds himself being honored among the giants in his field, there could be an accompanying sense of unworthiness. He didn’t place himself among those people, the Foundation for the National Archives did. By acknowledging they’ve done this, he pays his respects to those towering figures with his humility. You seem to suggest anyone who wins an award and recognizes what an honor it is must be incapable of feeling surprised people feel they measure up.

  • Amy Severson

    I sure this post humbled him good.

    • Eric

      Is “humbled good” correct?

  • Jerome Weeks

    Actually, no, it IS a ‘humbling’ experience. What Edsel is saying is, “Thanks, but I’m not worthy. I’m not really up there with Spielberg or Burns.” Yes, a recipient is likely to feel gratified, inspired, encouraged, honored, etc. to be put in such a group, and by citing them Edsel is associating himself with the greats (which is what the award committee already did).

    But he’s actually illustrating the DISTANCE between himself and them. It’s a perfectly understandable and credible response of many award recipients – to say, in effect, ‘This is such an honor and to show you what a great honor it is for me, I’ll remind you of the greats you’ve previously chosen.’ Certainly, for some people, and perhaps for Edsel, this may well be ‘mock humility,’ but it’s a rhetorical trope that goes back centuries. You have stronger grounds with the previous cases, the Blow and Devlin examples, because nowhere in the relevant passages do they compare themselves to journalists better, more recognized and justly rewarded than they are.

    • Dcitionary

      Humility vs. Humbled

  • AeroRazavi

    Your wrong. I am write.

  • Ted

    I think it’s posts like these that make Dallas the city that it is.

  • Jerome Weeks

    I can only gather from these exchanges — and your persistence/vehemence on this point — that you’ve never received an honor for which you did not think yourself absolutely worthy.

  • Brett Moore

    Well, at least it’s better to make a joke about having sex with your wife than it is for her to make one about having sex with you.

  • T_S_

    I recall having a similar response when I notice the hotel didn’t make a hard enough fold on the bed sheet after turn-down service. The mint was there, but that fold was clearly not at 45 degrees.

  • Jerome Weeks

    Modesty prevents you from mentioning it. Ah. That’s why you wrote a whole blog post about it? http://bit.ly/1tDMfXy

  • Bill Marvel

    Sorry, Tim. I have to award this one to Jerome. Putting aside Edsel’s obvious worthiness to stand among the giants, his turn of phrase — “the most humbling experience” — reflects his own feelings of unworthiness in suddenly finding himself in such august company. You don’t get to say, or even guess, what he feels; he does.
    — Bill Marvel

  • Bill Marvel

    Tim: He said “It’s the most humbling experience of a number of humbling experiences of this new life….” He did not say””This is a humiliating experience.” Or words “close to it.”
    I know that words matter to you, Tim. I’ve been edited by you, I’ve seen how your close attention to language can make a piece shine.
    That’s why this lapse on your part really puzzles me. Jerome is right. Edsel knew exactly what he was saying. So do I. So should you if you think about what he was saying rather than what you imagine him to be saying.

  • Jack Jett

    Irony vs. Humility vs. Tim Rogers = Humble Pie.

  • Jack Jett

    Yes Yes Yes. Please do this today.

  • Jerome Weeks

    Nope, nope,sorry, mostly what you’ve taught in these exchanges is neither irony nor humility but how to condescend to commenters who post here.

  • Eric

    Keep in mind Exxon was once the Humble Oil Company.
    Are the people in Humble Texas always humbled?