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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.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

left-handed compliment

a remark that is superficially complimentary but contains a strong element of adverse criticism.
See also: compliment
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

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.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
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References in periodicals archive ?
But the March polls were so remarkably well organised and peaceful that even the European Union and America admitted to as much, albeit backhandedly. Giving testimony to the US Congressional Subcommittee on Africa on 21 April, Jeff Krilla, director of the right wing International Republican Institute (IRI), admitted that Zimbabwe was "continually growing more sophisticated".
Characterizing the plaintiff backhandedly as a "moron" is undignified and reveals your apparent lack of appreciation for what actually occurred.
International Business Machines Corp., (119) yet another case involving a tax on export insurance, the Court backhandedly blessed Thames & Mersey by refusing to reconsider its earlier decision.
And far from weakening traditional marriage's inequities, GLBT reformers who embrace a matrimony broadened to include them will wind up backhandedly affirming an outmoded institution whose "traditional definition," cartoonist Ruben Bolling reminds us, is "an exchange, of property arranged by the parents of strangers." (6)
Backhandedly, there is an irrepressible psychological feature--not having to do with aesthetics--that renders Afolayan fascinating in the same way Balzac can be.
The minute the Greens start backhandedly supporting Democrats with a cute "strategic voting" scheme is the minute the public stops taking Greens seriously.
xix), Walsh helping Handel's cause rather backhandedly. On the other side of the stylistic spectrum are a number of simple, strophic songs; among the best known are The Fisherman's Song ("Of all the world's enjoyment s") and The Roast Beef of Old England ("When mighty roast beef was the Englishman's food"), which Baldwin and Wilson note "is still played by English regimental bands on Officers' Mess Nights" (p.
"The distinctive feature of modern American copyright law," he notes, "is its almost limitless bloating." (81) Term limits have stretched from the fourteen to twenty-eight year period known to the Framers to well over a hundred years; (82) laws that once affected only publishers now constrain every user and every desktop; (83) abstract ideas once considered unownable are now the subject of patent; (84) control that is constitutionally impermissible under copyright law may be achieved backhandedly by legally reinforced technological measures or by contract.
Backhandedly, Judge Kozinski provides a fresh and cogent rationale for regarding those roles as inconsistent with the common law tradition and with modern federal practice.
In that respect, informationalism's openness to 'lifelong learning' backhandedly acknowledges the inability of even the best schooling to shelter one from the vicissitudes of the new global marketplace.
Jonson's lines begin backhandedly, defining Penshurst Place in light of what it is not: Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show Of touch, or marble, nor canst boast a row Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold; Thou hast no lantern, whereof tales are told, Or stair, or courts; but stand'st an ancient pile, And these grudged at, art reverenc'd the while.
Just as Emanuel's adamant speaker backhandedly implies that pure textuality is a fantasy, Halliday suggests that the problematic status of the self lies someplace in between grandiosity and utter anonymity.
(c) Laplace has been backhandedly `credited' with converting the doctrine of determinism from a `truth' of religion to a `truth' of science (Popper, 1982).
Hemingway's denigrating portrait of Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast testifies backhandedly to the power Scott Fitzgerald and possibly Tender is the Night (which he never mentions) had over him.
Jarman backhandedly disparages language writing in general by suggesting that Hejinian's work (which he already does not consider to be very good) is better than the rest.