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backhanded compliment

An insulting or negative comment disguised as praise. She said my new pants really make my legs look much slimmer. What a backhanded compliment!

left-handed compliment

An insulting or negative comment disguised as praise. She said my new pants really make my legs look much slimmer. What a left-handed compliment!
See also: compliment

pay (one) a backhanded compliment

To insult or negatively criticize one in a manner that is disguised as or seems like a compliment or bit of praise. A: "Those pants really suit you—your legs don't look nearly as fat in them!" B: "Wow, talk about paying someone a backhanded compliment!" It's hard to tell when she's being sarcastic as a joke or when she's really just paying you a backhanded compliment.

backhanded compliment

 and left-handed compliment
an unintended or ambiguous compliment. Backhanded compliments are the only kind he ever gives! And I think his left-handed compliments are all given by accident, too!

pay someone a backhanded compliment

 and pay someone a left-handed compliment
Fig. to give someone a false compliment that is really an insult or criticism. John said that he had never seen me looking better. I think he was paying me a left-handed compliment. I'd prefer that someone insulted me directly. I hate it when someone pays me a backhanded compliment—unless it's a joke.

left-handed compliment

Also, backhanded compliment. An insult in the guise of an expression of praise. For example, She said she liked my hair, but it turned out to be a left-handed compliment when she asked how long I'd been dyeing it . This expression uses left-handed in the sense of "questionable or doubtful," a usage dating from about 1600.
See also: compliment

a backhanded compliment

1. A backhanded compliment is a remark which seems to be praising someone or something but which could also be understood as criticism. Saying she's improved comes over as a backhanded compliment. Reviewers gave the play the backhanded compliment that it was `surprisingly impressive'.
2. A backhanded compliment is a remark which seems to be criticizing someone or something but which could also be understood as praise. They were seen as the ones most in need of some culture. This was a backhanded compliment: it implied that they were capable of appreciating the highest works of art.

left-handed compliment

a remark that is superficially complimentary but contains a strong element of adverse criticism.
See also: compliment

a ˌbackhanded ˈcompliment

(American English also a ˌleft-handed ˈcompliment) a remark that seems to express admiration but could also be understood as an insult: She told me that my essay was ‘surprisingly good’, which I thought was a backhanded compliment.
References in periodicals archive ?
I feel better with my backhand, but it's not good enough to win a title like this or to win the top guys in a row.
In the testing environment, the subjects were allowed to practice the two backhand stances.
The seventh seed kept the pressure on, though, and finally took a chance in the 11th game, Verdasco netting a low backhand volley.
Djokovic did serve out the first set, but not without alarm as Nadal produced a brilliant overhead backhand volley to create a break-back chance, but the Australian Open champion snuffed out the opportunity to lead by a set.
She made it 2-2 with four consecutive aces in a 49-second burst and then broke serve in the next game when Radwanska sent a backhand long.
Nonetheless, Murray had not entirely staved off the danger and, from deuce, Federer earned a fourth -- and fifth -- break point as Murray's backhand wing continually peppered the net.
MORE than 20 years ago you printed my letter advocating making it compulsory for jockeys to use the whip in the backhand position, with any transgression resulting in automatic disqualification for the horse and a suspension for the jockey.
Djokovic saved four set points, but he could not create a chance for himself and on the fifth opportunity Federer hit a stunning backhand winner down the line.
Murray would, of course, have hoped to avoid such drama today and, in front of the watching Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, he began with a precision backhand winner down the line.
Mystified, the 21-year-old Kvitova looked to the sky with upraised hands when she jammed one backhand into the net and another over the baseline to trail 2-4.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Scot looked a little tight and a shocking backhand into the bottom of the net handed Ferrer a 2-0 lead.
He was quick to capitalise, forcing a backhand error from Federer to lead 6-5.
Murray saved three break points to hold serve in the fourth game thanks to five backhand mistakes from the Swiss, and another backhand error from Federer gave the Scot the break to lead 3-2.
The Scotsman faced break point at 3-2 up when he put a simple backhand into the net and Mathieu seized the opportunity to level, forcing Murray into another unforced error.