Backhanded Compliments

I've been thinking about backhanded compliments a lot as of late. They're wonderful little things that enable one to disguise an insult. One of my favorite comedians, W.C. Fields, was famous for them.

The most glaring example that I came across recently was when someone referred to a certain person as "a rock star - like Example A, Example B or Example C." Of course, in this instance, each of the three examples were a musician who hadn't had a commercial or critical success in more than a decade.

Sometimes a backhanded compliment can come from what is not said rather than by what is said. For example, I read two reviews of a certain restaurant recently. Both reviews were written by the same author and neither of them included a single word to describe the what the food actually tastes like. Since restaurant reviews generally include lengthy descriptions of the food and what it tastes like, such an omission is nothing if not telling. Since the rest of these reviews gave a seemingly positive impression, the overall impact of such a review is nothing less than a backhanded compliment about the food at this establishment.

There are also instances where a backhanded compliment can come not from what is said or not said; it can come from the manner in which it is presented in relation to other things. I read, for example, an article that referred to floor-to-ceiling windows being one of the highlights of a certain venue. This was made a backhanded compliment by the fact that said remark was accompanied by photographs showing that the windows did not reach from floor to ceiling.

W.C. Fields, I do believe, would be proud to know that this art form still lives on.


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