Damn with faint praise

Damn with faint praise is an idiom with roots in ancient times. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase damn with faint praise, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To damn with faint praise means to award praise that is so ambiguous or so underenthusiastic, it is in fact, criticism or condemnation. For instance, commenting on someone’s new dress by saying that it looks comfortable, is damning with faint praise. The owner of the dress wants to be told that it is flattering, pretty, or stylish. The comment that the dress is comfortable implies that the dress is not flattering, pretty, or stylish. The expression damn with faint praise was coined by Alexander Pope in 1735, in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot: “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And without sneering, the rest to sneer.” However, the idea of damning with faint praise was first put forward by the Roman author Favorinus in A.D. 110, who stated that it is worse to receive a feeble compliment then to receive a severe criticism. Related phrases are damns with faint praise, damned with faint praise, damning with faint praise.


I don’t mean to damn with faint praise, but that is more than many of his opponents have done. (The Washington Post)

You might, if you wished to damn with faint praise, call it tasteful. (The Guardian)

When donors or public officials ask about other organizations working toward similar goals, nonprofit staff and senior volunteers focused on India and raising money in the United States tend to claim ignorance, share dated information, damn with faint praise, or even lightly criticize their competitors. (The Stanford Social Innovation Review)

But a talent as large as Paul’s deserves more than “well-known,” “respected,” “hard-core following” and the like — not quite damning with faint praise, but close enough — as common descriptors. (The Albany Herald)

Leave a Comment