What Is A Backhanded Compliment? 10 Examples That Show Why It’s The Worst Thing Ever


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What Is A Backhanded Compliment

Imagine stepping out the door feeling like you’re on top of the world. You’ve put in effort into your look, and you’re brimming with a sense of self-assuredness. Then, someone slides up to you with a smile and says: “You’ve lost weight! You look much prettier now.” And there goes your self-esteem. Was that supposed to be a compliment? Welcome to the bittersweet world of backhanded compliments. But what is a backhanded compliment?

Backhanded compliments are, perhaps, the most socially acceptable way to lace negativity with a bow of positivity, delivered with a smirk hiding under a smile. It’s the subtlety of these remarks that makes them so intriguing and so infuriating.

Let’s take a closer look at why these seemingly innocuous comments pack such a punch. But first, let’s talk more about what is a backhanded compliment really.

Related: How To Deal With Mean People The Smart Way

What Is A Backhanded Compliment?

A backhanded compliment is a tricky kind of praise. It seems like a compliment at first, but when you think about it, it’s actually a bit insulting. Think of it as a compliment with a sting in its tail.

For instance, someone might say, “You actually did a good job on this project,” implying surprise that you did well, which suggests they didn’t expect much from you. Or, “I just love the fact that you don’t really care that much about how you look!” which sounds nice because it’s about love, but it also suggests you might not look good.

It’s like someone is trying to be nice, but they’re also poking fun at you or highlighting a flaw at the same time. This kind of compliment can leave you feeling a little insulted or confused, because the message is mixed – it’s warm and cold at the same time.

Now that we know what is a backhanded compliment, let’s talk about why do people give backhanded compliments.

What is a backhanded compliment
What Is A Backhanded Compliment? 10 Examples That Show Why It’s The Worst Thing Ever

Why Do People Give Backhanded Compliments?

People toss out backhanded compliments for a few reasons. Sometimes, it’s because they’re feeling a bit green with envy and want to knock someone down a peg while seeming to be nice. It’s like saying, “I didn’t know you are so smart! You’re smarter than you look!” which implies someone doesn’t usually look smart.

In other cases, folks might not even realize they’re being snarky. They’re trying to make a joke or be playful, and it backfires. Think of someone saying, “You actually made a good point in the meeting,” suggesting it’s a rare occurrence.

Then there’s the awkward social dance. Some people use backhanded compliments as a way to seem polite while also voicing their opinion. It’s their way of being ‘honest’ without being too direct.

Why do people give backhanded compliments? Let’s not forget insecurity – sometimes people throw these zingers out there because they feel unsure about themselves. By giving you a backhanded compliment, they’re trying to feel better by comparison.

In the end, backhanded compliments are a complicated mix of intention and impact, often revealing more about the person giving them than the person receiving them.

Now, let’s explore some backhanded compliment examples.

10 Examples of Backhanded Compliments That Prove Why They’re The Worst Thing Ever

1. “You look great for your age.”

This is probably one of the worst backhanded compliments you can get. Seriously.

This is a sly way of praising someone by slipping in a jab about their age. It’s like saying, “You stand out among your peers,” but whispering, “only because of your years.” It’s a roundabout way of noting that someone looks good, but with a nudge and a wink that their beauty has an expiration date.

It nudges at the idea that beauty fades with time, and though meant as a compliment, it nudges you towards the cultural obsession with youth, implying you’ve somehow managed to hold onto attractiveness despite the passing years.

Related: 5 Signs A Seemingly Nice Person Secretly Has Some Cruel Intentions

2. “You’re so brave to wear that outfit.”

This remark is a sneaky zinger wrapped in sparkly paper. It’s like a high-five with a little pinch. Sure, it starts off sounding like a cheer for your bold fashion choice, but there’s a sly wink behind it, hinting that maybe your outfit is a bit out there or off the usual track.

It’s a chill way of questioning your style without being straight-up rude. So while it gives a nod to your gutsiness, it’s also tossing in a “but, are you sure?” about your look. It leaves you wondering if you’re a trendsetter or a fashion misfit, all with a pat on the back and a sly grin.

3. “You speak English so well, I can barely detect an accent.”

What is a backhanded compliment, you wonder? This right here is a huge example.

When someone tells you something like this, it’s like they’re trying to give you a thumbs up but end up giving a backhanded high five. It sounds like they’re applauding your language skills, but they’re also kind of saying, “Hey, you don’t sound like you come from around here.”

It’s a subtle nod to an old-school belief that the closer you sound to a native speaker, the better your English must be.

This kind of “compliment” sticks to the idea that a ‘standard’ accent is the gold standard, which is pretty outdated. It’s a roundabout way of telling you that you’ve done a good job at blending in, while also reminding you that you’ll always stand out.

It’s cheeky, a little bit awkward, and can make you wonder if it’s actually a pat on the back or a gentle nudge to fit in more.

4. “So, you can actually afford a car like that? Nice.”

This one’s a sly dog of a comment, huh? It’s less of a high-five for your new ride and more of a nudge-nudge, “How’d you swing that?” It’s as if they’re complimenting you while their brows are doing a little disbelieving dance.

It’s not just about the truck; it’s a poke at your wallet, wrapped up in a casual joke. And let’s not ignore the green-eyed monster peeking out, hinting they might wish they were in the driver’s seat of your life. It’s cheeky, it’s a tad salty, and it’s definitely not just about the wheels.

What is a backhanded compliment
What Is A Backhanded Compliment? 10 Examples That Show Why It’s The Worst Thing Ever

5. “You’re pretty for a bigger girl.”

One of the worst backhanded compliments someone can get, especially a woman, is this one right here.

This is like serving a compliment sandwich with a side of shade. It’s like they’re saying, “You’ve got the look, despite not fitting into the teeny-tiny box society calls ‘beauty standards.’” It’s a poke that suggests being pretty and being ‘bigger‘ don’t usually mix in their book.

This is one of those backhanded compliment examples that is a low-key way of enforcing those tired, old-fashioned rules about what beauty ‘should’ look like. It’s as if they’re trying to be nice, but they’re also nudging you to notice there’s a ‘but’ in their voice. Not cool.

Related: 7 Sneaky Provocations Of The Narcissist That Hit Where It Hurts

6. “You are so pretty for [insert a minority group or community here].”

This “compliment” is like giving a thumbs-up with a side-eye. It’s like they’re tossing you a personal win, but at the expense of dissing a whole group. This “compliment” is a sneaky diss-track that plays on loop, suggesting your crew usually doesn’t make the cut for the beauty pageant.

It’s a backhanded high-five that’s really slapping an entire community with a stereotype. It’s not just uncool; it’s spreading the old, dusty myth that good looks have a type. Newsflash: They don’t. Beauty’s a big, diverse party, no VIP pass needed.

7. “You are so lucky you don’t have any responsibilities as such and can just chill around all day.”

It’s like someone saying they envy your chill life, but it’s also a bit of a dig. It’s like they’re giving you a nod for having what seems like an easy ride while sneakily suggesting you’re living the easy life, maybe sipping lemonade while everyone else is grinding.

It’s a casual jab that says, “Hey, must be nice not to adult as hard as the rest of us,” even though everyone’s got their own battles and bills, visible or not. It’s a little cheeky and kind of overlooks that everyone’s juggling something.

8. “You’re really funny for a woman.”

What is a backhanded compliment? This is one of the most insulting backhanded compliment examples.

Hearing “You’re really funny for a woman” is like getting a compliment that’s been left out in the sun too long—it’s a bit off. It’s like they’re throwing you a high-five for your jokes, but also kind of saying women aren’t usually in the funny club. It’s a sly chuckle that’s actually propping up that dusty old stereotype that humour’s a guy thing.

It’s a roundabout way of saying you’re an exception to an imaginary rule, which is pretty whack. Basically, it’s a backhanded clap for your punchlines, all while hinting at a comedy club where apparently, not all of us get a mic, and is easily one of the most worst backhanded compliments you can give someone.

9. “Your house is so cosy; I’m sure you have a hard time keeping it clean.”

Slipping this backhanded compliment is low-key a nudge-nudge about your place being a clutter magnet. It’s like they’re giving a nod to your homey vibe, but with a wink that says, “Bet it’s a jungle in there when no one’s looking.”

It dresses up the idea that small equals messy in a compliment costume. It’s a sneaky way of saying your pad’s got more ‘lived-in’ charm than showroom shine, without being straight-up rude about it. It’s cheeky and a tad presumptuous, like they expect dust bunnies to hop out at any moment.

What is a backhanded compliment
What Is A Backhanded Compliment? 10 Examples That Show Why It’s The Worst Thing Ever

10. “You’re lucky to have a supportive and loving partner like them. It must make up for your other shortcomings.”

It’s like they’re clapping for your relationship wins but also tossing a sneaky side-eye at your personal skills scoreboard. It’s a roundabout way of saying, “Thank goodness for your partner, huh?” It hints that without your other half, you’d be dropping the ball.

This backhanded gem manages to pat your back and poke you at the same time, suggesting you’re not quite the full package on your own. It’s a little bit sassy and totally misses the mark on tact.

Now that we have talked about some of the worst backhanded compliments there are, let’s find out how to respond to backhanded compliments.

Related: How To Spot A Frenemy? 12 Signs Someone Is Pretending To Be Your Friend

How To Respond To Backhanded Compliments?

If you are wondering why do people give backhanded compliments and how to respond to backhanded compliments, these tips might be able to help you out.

  • Reflect the comment: Try mirroring their words with a twist, “Yeah, it takes a lot of confidence to pull off this outfit, doesn’t it?” It demonstrates that you are aware of the subtext but chose to own it boldly.
  • Quote them later: In a group, bring up the comment again casually, “Like when you said I’m brave for my fashion choices!” It can highlight the ridiculousness of the comment, provoking a discussion or a rethink.
  • Agree and amplify: One of the best things you can do if you are thinking about how to respond to backhanded compliments. Agree with the comment in an exaggerated, humorous way. It shows you’re confident enough to poke fun at yourself and can take their words with a grain of salt.
  • Ask for clarification: Play the confusion card. Ask, “What do you mean by that?” It puts the ball back in their court and makes them think about what they’ve just said, possibly realizing the rudeness of their remark.
  • Question the standard: For comments like “You’re funny for a woman,” you might respond, “Funny by whose standards?” It challenges societal norms and opens up a broader conversation.
  • Use silence: Wondering how to respond to backhanded compliments? Sometimes, saying nothing but giving a pointed look can be powerful. It’s non-confrontational but sends a clear message that you heard the undertone.
  • Seek genuine insight: If you’re up for it, ask why they think that way, “I’m curious, why would you say that?” It can lead to an honest exchange.
  • Keep it classy: Respond with a simple “Thank you” and move on. This keeps you above the fray and shows you’re unfazed by the subtle dig, maintaining your dignity while not engaging in negativity.
  • Set boundaries: If necessary, let the person know that their comment wasn’t appreciated. A firm but polite, “I prefer compliments without qualifications,” can set the tone for future interactions.
  • Empathize with them: Show understanding, “Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on to think that’s a compliment!” It gently turns the tables and can be an eye-opener.


Backhanded compliments can be a social minefield. They remind us that words have power, and even a compliment can be loaded with hidden messages.

The key to navigating some of the worst backhanded compliments is to stay positive, know your worth, and remember that the problem lies with the giver, not the receiver.

In a world where authenticity is valued, it’s essential to strive for genuine compliments that uplift rather than those that leave a sting. After all, everyone deserves to be celebrated without reservation. Let’s put an end to the backhanded compliment and aim for a culture of straightforward, sincere appreciation.

Related: 5 Psychological Tricks That Evil People Use To Hurt Others

What is a backhanded compliment, according to you? Have you ever on the receiving end of these backhanded compliment examples? Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below!

why do people give backhanded compliments
What Is A Backhanded Compliment? 10 Examples That Show Why It’s The Worst Thing Ever

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