Backhanded Compliment

Insults Disguised as Compliments

Friends having serious discussion
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When someone is our friend, it's not always easy to determine when the friendship turns toxic. One sign that your friend might not be true is when they give you a backhanded compliment, or a statement of praise that is actually an insult in disguise. Some of these statements might be obvious to you right away while with other backhanded compliments you might not be realize it is an insult until later on when you have had some time to think about what was said.

Very often a backhanded compliment is given by someone you'd consider a friend, or at least someone you are friendly with. An insult of this type is given by a person with the intent to put you down. The negative connotation involved with a backhanded compliment is not by accident. Therefore, a frenemy or acquaintance you thought you were on good terms with may utter a backhanded compliment at a time when they are feeling threatened by your good fortune, unhappy at your success, or just because they don't really like you.

Backhanded compliments generally come from people who behave in a small or catty way. They might never express their real thoughts to your face, and they try to make themselves feel better (stronger, in control) by putting you down.

Difference Between a Backhanded Compliment and a Direct Insult

Both backhanded compliments and straight-up insults are phrases directed at you in order to put you down. However, a backhanded compliment is done in a passive-aggressive manner, meant to make you think about the dig long after it is said. It is often done with a smile, by someone you thought was a friend, and always directly to your face. 

Some people think that when they give a backhanded compliment they are pretending to be nice. Others believe that the person they are insulting won't "get" that a dig is being thrown their way. But both of these are wrong. People understand when they're being insulted, and the only reason there might be a delayed response to this insult is because they're giving the person the benefit of the doubt because they thought of them as a friend.

Examples of backhanded compliments vary from person to person. What might be an insult to one person might not be considered as such to someone else. Therefore, you should take a lot of things into consideration (including your current status with this person, if they are a genuine friend or not) before deciding that they are giving you a backhanded compliment.

Also Known As

insult, dig


Typical backhanded compliments might be:

  • "I didn't expect you to ace that test. Good for you." (Implying that you aren't very smart.)
  • "That dress makes you look so much thinner." (Implying that they think you're too fat.)
  • "I wish I could be as straightforward as you, but I try to get along with everyone." (the implication here is that you're too bold or overbearing.)

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