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An insulting or negative comment disguised as praise. She said my new pants really make my legs look much slimmer. What a backhanded compliment!
A false or facetious display of obeisance, or an insult disguised as a compliment. A derogatory phrase, it should not be confused with the linguistic or sociological components of compliments as used in Chinese language and culture.
compliment (someone) on (something)
To praise someone for something specific. I have to compliment you on this dinner you made—it's just delicious! The salesman just complimented me on my beautiful smile!
compliments of the house
cliché Said of that which is offered for free by the merchant or establishment. A: "Excuse me, but I didn't order this champagne." B: "Compliments of the house, miss." As a token of congratulations on your wedding day, we at the Kensington Hotel would like to offer a free round of drinks for you and all your guests, compliments of the house!
fish for compliments
To attempt to elicit praise from someone, typically by saying negative things about oneself. We know you're a smart kind, Dan. You don't need to fish for compliments by talking about the one C you got. Tara's always fishing for compliments by talking about how she couldn't get her hair the way she wanted it.
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!
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.
pay (one) a compliment
To compliment one; to give one a piece of praise. It took me a little while to realize that he was paying me a compliment. It isn't often she pays her employees compliments, so you should really feel proud.
pay (one) a left-handed 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 left-handed compliment!" It's hard to tell when she's being sarcastic as a joke or when she's really just paying you a left-handed compliment.
pay (someone or something) a compliment
To give someone praise, especially for a specific accomplishment or trait. He paid the chef a compliment for the delicious soufflé. I don't really like it when people pay me a compliment for my appearance—I never know how to react.
pay a compliment to (someone or something)
To give someone praise, especially for a specific accomplishment or trait. He paid a compliment to the chef for the delicious soufflé. Don't pay a compliment to your date unless you really mean it—no one likes empty praise.
return (someone's) compliment
1. Literally, to compliment someone in return for a compliment they gave first. I always feel the need to return people's compliments whenever they say something nice to me. It feels rude not to, I guess.
2. To reciprocate someone's actions. You helped me last week, so let me return your compliment and do your taxes for you. If Tiffany's the one who started that rumor about me, I'll just return her compliment with a rumor about her.
return the compliment
1. Literally, for one to give a compliment to the person who has given a compliment to one. I always feel the need to return the compliment when someone says something nice to me.
2. To reciprocate someone's actions. You helped me last week, so I'll return the compliment and do your filing. If Tiffany's the one who started that rumor about me, I'll just return the compliment with a rumor about her.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
backhanded complimentand 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!
compliment someone on something
to say something nice to someone about something connected to that person. I was pleased with Alice's work and complimented her on it. They complimented me on my new tie.
fish for a compliment
Fig. to try to get someone to pay oneself a compliment. When she showed me her new dress, I could tell that she was fishing for a compliment. Tom was certainly fishing for a compliment when he modeled his fancy haircut for his friends.
pay someone a backhanded complimentand 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.
pay someone compliment
Fig. to give someone a compliment. Tom paid Bill a compliment when he told him he was intelligent. Mary was very gracious when Anne paid her a compliment.
return the complimentand return someone's compliment
to pay a compliment to someone who has paid you a compliment. Mary told me that my hair looked nice, so I returned her compliment and told her that her hair was lovely. When someone says something nice, it is polite to return the compliment.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
back of one's hand
Rejection or contempt, as in Unimpressed with him, she gave the back of her hand to his suggestion. This phrase is usually the object of a verb such as give or show. [Second half of 1700s] Back of the hand similarly means "an insult" in the term back-handed compliment (see under left-handed compliment) but has a quite different meaning in know like the back of one's hand (see under know like a book).
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.
pay a compliment
Express praise or commendation to someone, as in Meredith wanted to pay Christopher a compliment so she told him she liked his new haircut . This expression uses pay in the sense of "give something that is due." [c. 1700]
return the compliment
Also, return the favor. Repay someone in kind, as in Her political opponent came out with a smear campaign, and she returned the compliment. Neither the compliment nor the favor in this idiom is necessarily desirable. [First half of 1700s]
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
return the compliment1 give a compliment in return for another. 2 retaliate or respond in kind.
left-handed complimenta remark that is superficially complimentary but contains a strong element of adverse criticism.
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.
fish for complimentsencourage somebody indirectly to say nice things about you: Stop asking me if you look OK. You’re just fishing for compliments.
reˌturn the ˈcomplimentdo or say the same pleasant thing that somebody else has done or said to you: Thanks for a lovely meal. We’ll try and return the compliment very soon.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
left-handed compliment, a
An expression of praise or admiration that is actually a faintly disguised insult or reproach. The association of lefthandedness with ambiguity or doubtfulness may come from the practice of the morganatic marriage ceremony (between royalty and a commoner who renounces all claim to the spouse’s title and property); in it the groom gave the bride his left hand instead of the right hand used in conventional marriage ceremonies.
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer