Definitions

backhanded

Backhanded compliment

A backhanded compliment or left-handed compliment or asteism is an insult disguised as a compliment. It is generally used to belittle or condescend, or often one uses a backhanded compliment when one wants to insult someone in a subtle way.

Usage

An example of a backhanded compliment would be to tell a woman "I like your dress very much. It does wonders for your figure." This statement would seem on the surface to compliment the woman's choice in clothing, and perhaps even her figure, but closer examination reveals its true meaning: that the woman's figure is unattractive and needs improvement from clothing. This statement is not a compliment to the woman, but to the garment's ability to slenderize.

Sometimes a backhanded compliment is obvious, combining an obvious compliment with an equally obvious insult. For example, one might say "You are an excellent artist, which is a relief considering what an incompetent cook you are!" In this way no part of the intent is made less obvious, but the severity of the insult may still be lessened enough to make the entire statement seem like a compliment.

Backhanded compliments are not always intentional. The speaker may intend to pay a compliment, but in so doing accidentally reveal uncomplimentary feelings. For example, on the August 22, 2007 episode of The Daily Show, guest Barack Obama responded to the question of whether there were any Republicans he could agree with by saying "I think some of these folks are decent people," to which Jon Stewart responded with "Worst backhanded compliment ever."

Other examples: "I want to be just like you when I get old"; "You're not as dumb as I thought."

See also

References

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