Don’t Be So Humble—You’re Not That Great

Golda Meir? Simcha Dinitz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A humble brag is a statement that on its surface appears to be modest or self-deprecating; however, the true intent is to highlight a success or achievement. The funniest response I have seen to these types of comments is the following:

Don’t act so humble; you aren’t that great.

Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: This statement was circulating many years before the term humble brag was coined. “The New York Times” published a piece in 1969 about Golda Meir who had recently become the Prime Minister of Israel. The article was based on the memories of Simcha Dinitz who worked as a close aide to Meir from 1963 to 1966. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“There is nobody like Golda for seeing what needs doing—or saying,” Mr. Dinitz commented. “She is always telling people: ‘Don’t be so humble—you’re not that great.’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1970 the collection of quotations titled “As Good As Golda: The Warmth and Wisdom of Israel’s Prime Minister” compiled and edited by journalists Israel Shenker and Mary Shenker appeared. The following was included without a citation: 2

Golda is always telling people: “Don’t be so humble—you’re not that great.”

Also in 1970, the widely syndicated columnist Earl Wilson mentioned the quotation: 3

Wish I’d Said That: Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is quoted (in the book, “Good As Golda”) telling someone, “Don’t be so humble—you’re not that great.”

In 1986 “How To Sound Like a Million Dollars” by public speaking expert Lyle V. Mayer attributed a different phrasing to Meir: 4

Don’t be so humble. You’re not that wonderful.
[Golda Meir]

In 1996 the “Santa Fe New Mexican” published a book review that included another phrasing for the statement: 5

In the words of Snake’s own daughter, “Don’t act so humble, you ain’t that great”

In conclusion, QI believes Golda Meir deserves credit for this remark. The indirect evidence was supplied by Simcha Dinitz who credited her in 1969. Dinitz knew Meir well, and his memory was recent.

(Great thanks to Terry Teachout whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Teachout mentioned the ascription to Golda Meir. QI added a framing device to the inquiry by referring to the relatively recent term: humble brag. Thanks also “The Yale Book of Quotations” which contained the 1969 citation.)

Notes:

  1. 1969 March 18, New York Times, A Tangy Flavor in Mrs. Meir’s Views (Special to The New York Times), Quote Page 12, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1970 Copyright, As Good As Golda: The Warmth and Wisdom of Israel’s Prime Minister by Golda Meir, Compiled and edited by Israel Shenker and Mary Shenker, Chapter: Such a woman, Quote Page 8, The McCall Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1970 July 28, The Hartford Courant, ‘Thinking Happy’ Sad Prospect by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)
  4. 1986, How To Sound Like a Million Dollars: Turning Your Everyday Voice Into an Asset by Lyle V. Mayer, Chapter 3: Put Your Best Voice Forward, Quote Page 57, Walker and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1996 May 26, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Bio of Native American leader lacks details insight by Gaye Brown, Quote Page D4, Column 6, Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Newspapers_com)