Is It Backhanded Compliment or Left-Handed Compliment?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever been caught off guard by a compliment that didn’t feel quite right? That it almost felt like an insult wrapped in nice words and sarcasm? If so, you might have been on the receiving end of a left-handed or backhanded compliment. Here’s my breakdown of the contradictory term and examples of how to use it.

Is It a Left-Handed Compliment or a Backhanded Compliment?

Backhanded Compliment vs Left Handed Compliment Ngram
Backhanded compliment and left-handed compliment usage trend.

Both the terms left-handed compliment and backhanded compliment are interchangeable because they share the same intent. We use both to refer to a remark that, while superficially polite, has a critical or sarcastic undertone.

As a life-long quirky, artist type, I’ve received my fair share of back-handed compliments from friends and family. I had my lovely emo phase during my teen years, and I can’t count how many times I walked out of my room for the day. And my mother looked me up and down with wide eyes as she said, “Well, that’s a nice shade of black.”

What Does a Left-Handed Compliment Mean?

Is It Backhanded Compliment or Left Handed Compliment

Much like a backhanded compliment, a left-handed compliment is a remark or comment that’s supposedly flattering or praising but, after a second thought, implies criticism or negative observation. It’s like getting a pat on the back with a pinch attached to it.

Left-Handed or Left Handed or Lefthanded?

Left Handed Lefthanded vs Left Handed Ngram
Left-handed, lefthanded and left handed usage trend.

You’ll probably see all versions floating around, but just know that the hyphenated version is correct because left-handed is an adjective usually used before a noun.

Backhanded or Back Handed or Back-Handed?

Backhanded Back Handed vs Back Handed Ngram
Backhanded, back-handed and back handed usage trend.

Again, even I’ve seen all three forms at least once. But backhanded as one word is the more commonly accepted version of the trio.

Left-Handed Compliment Origin and Etymology

The expression left-handed compliment derives from the traditional association of left-handedness with deceit and insincerity. It was first recorded in English in the early 20th century and reflected cultural biases against left-handed people.

What Is an Antonym for a Left-Handed Compliment?

A genuine compliment or straightforward praise are some good antonyms for a left-handed or backhanded compliment.

Left-Handed Compliment Synonyms

Instead of saying a left-handed compliment, try one of these other terms and phrases that work just the same.

  • Backhanded compliment
  • Veiled insult
  • Negative statement 
  • Insincere praise
  • Damning with faint praise
  • Stealth insult

Left-Handed Compliment Examples in a Sentence

Let’s see the variant left-handed compliment in use. 

  • She gave him a left-handed compliment when she told him, “I admire how you always manage to turn up to work no matter how late you are.”
  • His left-handed compliment about her painting skills left her confused, as he said, “I love how fearless you are with your unconventional use of colors.”
  • When she said, “It’s impressive how well you handle criticism, considering how often you receive it,” it was definitely a left-handed compliment.
  • The remark, “You always seem to have an answer for everything, don’t you?” was a classic left-handed compliment.
  • Telling her, “Your home has such a vintage charm; it’s like stepping back in time,” was a left-handed compliment.

Backhanded Compliment Examples in a Sentence

Is It Backhanded Compliment or Left Handed Compliment 1

These might seem like positive compliments, but they’re not!

  • Telling my grandfather, “You’re quite articulate when you want to be,” was a backhanded compliment that he definitely didn’t like.
  • Jane’s statement, “Your new haircut really draws attention away from your nose,” was a total backhanded compliment.
  • When you told me, “You’ve certainly lost weight; I can hardly recognize you,” it was clearly a backhanded compliment.
  • His comment, “I love how you can just wear anything, regardless of the fashion norms,” was certainly a backhanded compliment.
  • Saying, “Your presentation was so detailed that I almost dozed off,” came off as a backhanded compliment.

Compliments, Left-Handed or Right

And there’s the meaning of left-handed compliments and backhanded compliments. After reading my quick guide and tips, you should be able to use these expressions with ease. Just remember that they’re insults wrapped in praise. If you have a question about idioms, check out my other short guides!