Backhanded compliment and left-handed compliment

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Backhanded compliment and left-handed compliment are two versions of an idiom. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom backhanded compliment or left-handed compliment, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A backhanded compliment, also known as a left-handed compliment, is a remark that on its surface seems to convey admiration, though it is also an insult. An example: “You’re so brave to wear that dress.” While the remark is supposed to be taken as a compliment, the implication is that the dress does not look very good on you. Another example: “You have such a pretty face.” Though he is praising your face, the speaker implies that the rest of you is not very appealing. The term left-handed compliment came into use in the 1600s from the fact that the left hand has always been considered sinister. The term backhanded compliment came into use in the 1800s. Today, the idiom backhanded compliment is by far the more popular of the two phrases. Note that backhanded is not hyphenated, but left-handed is hyphenated.


After venturing to the Ayungin Shoal to see and report on how Filipino fishermen were coping amid China’s incursions into Philippine territory, ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano and her crew did not deserve the left-handed compliment initially dealt them by the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. (Inquirer)

Yes, the article was glowing in its praise of Sarasota, but the editors seemingly were unable to resist a final left-handed compliment after talking about its great food. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Though encased in a chorus of anti-Bama fervor, Conner Smith’s single actually unfolds as a backhanded compliment to the ponderous phenomenon of Alabama football, especially during its ongoing Nick Saban dynasty. (Tuscaloosa News)

Fey aimed a perfect backhanded compliment at The Trial of the Chicago 7 honoree Aaron Sorkin: “He can have seven men talking, but it feels like 100 men talking.” (Time Magazine)