backhanded compliment

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Noun[edit]

backhanded compliment (plural backhanded compliments)

  1. (idiomatic) An insult disguised as a compliment; a compliment which can be interpreted as an insult.
    • 1914, Edgar Rice Burroughs, chapter 17, in Tarzan of the Apes:
      " [] regardless of what he may say to you, he respects your great learning, and, therefore, has immense confidence in your judgment. The poor dear cannot differentiate between erudition and wisdom." Mr. Philander, with a mildly puzzled expression on his face, turned to pursue Professor Porter, and in his mind he was revolving the question of whether he should feel complimented or aggrieved at Miss Porter's rather back-handed compliment.
    • 1998 June 29, Jere Longman, “World Cup '98: Dutch Fans Are Orange (Hair, Dresses, Clogs and Faces) With Envy”, in New York Times[1], retrieved 7 October 2013:
      Perhaps, finally, the Netherlands will shed itself of the backhanded compliment of being the best team never to win a world championship.
    • 2009 February 4, Robert Chew, “A Madoff Whistle-Blower Tells His Story”, in Time[2], retrieved 7 October 2013:
      In a backhanded compliment, Markopolos said the SEC is a "bad regulator, but the best of a very sorry lot."

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