Printable Version
Pronunciation: hêm-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Meek, modest, deferential, submissive, lacking any arrogance or pride, a humble man of faith. 2. Of low quality or rank, unpretentious, as a humble abode or humble origins.

Notes: Most speakers pronounce the initial H on today's Good Word, though not in honor. The rule explaining the different pronunciations of a history versus an historical is that in unaccented syllables the H is dropped. However, in today's word the H appears in an accented syllable, so it should be pronounced. Still, if you are from the US South, you may pronounce today's word umble. It's OK if you do. The noun that fits this adjective is humility.

In Play: You won't find the recipe for humble pie, though you will hear this expression frequently, as in: "If I'm late for work again, I'll have to eat all the humble pie that my boss can dish out." Of course, you can fake humility, but as Golda Meir once famously put it: "Don't be so humble; you're not that great." Today's adjective may be used as a verb, too: "The whole world was humbled by Nelson Mandela's capacity for forgiveness."

Word History: Today's Good Word is Old French humble, pure and simple, the descendant of Latin humilis "lowly, humble", literally "on the ground," from humus "ground, earth". The phrase "to eat humble pie" is actually a misperception of umble pie (1640s), pie made from umbles "edible inner parts of an animal", especially deer and hogs, considered at the time a humiliating, lower class food. Since the H of humble wasn't pronounced at the time, it took over the job of umble. Umbles was in Middle English numbles "offal". The initial N was lost through assimilation into the preceding article: a numble (pie) becoming an umble (pie), following the pattern of a narange (Arabic) becoming an orange and a napron becoming an apron. Have you noticed that a napkin is just a small (n)apron. (We would have to eat humble pie if we forgot to thank Carolyn Mickelson for recommending today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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