Damn with faint praise

Damn with faint praise is an idiom with roots in ancient times. 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.

Examples

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)