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back-handed compliment

An insulting or negative comment disguised as praise. She said my new pants really make my legs look much slimmer. What a back-handed compliment!
See also: 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 ?
The backhand isn't what necessarily won him the match but it caused so many problems for Verdasco and he didn't have any answers to that shot at all.
Murray missed a second chance but placed a backhand just inside the line on the third.
Serving for the match at 5-2 she cracked down yet another ace, her 102nd of the tournament, then powered in another unreturnable serve before finishing off with a backhand winner.
HENMAN has tipped Andy Murray to win the battle of the backhands on Centre Court today.
He took the latter opportunity too, as a short return brought Murray scrambling to the net and a shovelled shot allowed Federer to rip a backhand pass that the Brit could only loop long of the baseline with an attempted block volley.
The opening game of the fourth set was a big one for Federer, who was still hitting stunning winners but also making more errors, and it was the latter that cost him as Djokovic secured another break with a brilliant backhand at full stretch.
She battled the set to a tiebreaker, where the players traded mini-breaks until Kvitova jammed a forehand into Pironkova's backhand corner to lead 3-1.
Murray then brought up his first break point of the match in the second game of set two but broke a string on an attempted backhand pass, dropping the racquet to the grass in disgust.
And in a parting shot at world number eight Rusedski's backhand, which could be considered as just sour grapes, Woodruff said: ''I don't think he'll ever get to the top because that's a pretty big hole.
He was denied a set point in the twelfth service game, but he dominated the ensuing tie-break and reduced his deficit with a backhand cross court winner.
Nishikori took the first set tiebreak 7-5 after a jaw-dropping running backhand pass, clenching his fist to salute the roars of the crowd.
TIM HENMAN believes Andy Murray's brilliant backhand is the key to beating Rafa Nadal today.
jenwren The WTA Tour has missed Justine and her killer backhand.
Murray was not done, though, getting to another break point with a double-handed backhand down the line, only to find the net on the next point.
Following Moorhouse's match with Langfield there was a dramatic change of tempo with powerful backhand and forehand hitting by Adams, and some excellent winning forehands by Steve Knott down his opponent's backhand.