"For an amateur production, the color came out very well... perhaps by scrapping the soundtrack and running it with subtitles or dubbing it in Esperanto, it could be promoted as a foreign art film of some sort or other."Sometimes, we can't just say something is bad. Perhaps we are being nice, or perhaps we are in a situation where negative comments are frowned upon. It could be that we are expected to give a positive response. Break out the faint praise! To damn something with faint praise is to point out that something is mediocre or worse by praising it in ways that make its weaknesses clear. To say that a computer "looks sleek" as the primary point of praise would indicate that it is not that amazing as a computer, for example. To describe a person as punctual when asked about how they perform at work carries the heavy implication that this is their one valuable trait. An alternate version of the trope (frequently used in Caustic Critic reviews) is to condemn something by praising it in comparison to something else that's widely accepted as being not at all good. For example: "This movie has a more coherent plot than Plan 9 from Outer Space". Related to many Insult Tropes; can be the result of a Compliment Backfire. May take the form of an Overly Narrow Superlative or a Trivially Obvious statement. May also, in a funeral setting, result from Never Speak Ill of the Dead if the deceased is not particularly missed. The Four Point Scale may result in this, as high scores are given to things that are just okay, so that fans see a 7 or 8 as a "bad" score. See also So Okay, It's Average, Not Like Other Girls, and You Are a Credit to Your Race. Contrast with Stealth Insult, which also damns people through "praise" - in that case, though, the praise is illusionary rather than merely weak. Sarcasm Mode is also a sister trope. Those who confuse faint praise with actual praise will claim that It's Not Supposed to Win Oscars.
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- Chevrolet runs a TV commercial where it shows all of the cars it makes that get better EPA estimated mileage than the equivalent Honda. At the end of the commercial, the announcer says, "There's one thing Honda makes that we can't compete with. It's even self-propelled," and the camera pans down to show a Honda lawnmower.
- The jargon used by real-estate agents effectively does this by trying to turn everything into a compliment. "Cozy" just means too small, "a good fixer-upper" means it's a dump, an "efficient" kitchen means it's only big enough for one person. Specific examples include:
- The Simpsons: "That house is on fire!" "'Motivated seller'!"
- The Dutch Comedy show Koefnoen did a similar sketch where two obnoxious yuppies "translated" every selling point a real estate agent gave them, ("Good access by car and public transport." "Highway through the back yard, foundations ruined by the subway line.") turning into a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. As they walked away satisfied, they decided they were going to buy it anyway.
- Fred Dagg on the subject: "Like so many other jobs in this wonderful society of ours, the basic function of the real estate agent is to increase the price of the article without actually producing anything, and as a result it has a lot to do with communication, terminology, and calling a spade a delightfully bucolic colonial winner facing north and offering a unique opportunity to the handyman."
- Freakonomics features a list of good and less-good things estate agents describe houses as, for instance "Good neighborhood" means there are good houses nearby even if this isn't one. And if the description/ad ever includes an exclamation point that means you should avoid it like the plague (since that means there is literally nothing the agent could praise about the house and thus felt the need to add fake enthusiasm).
- The Lying Ape says an apartment described as "cozy" meant you could cook a meal, watch television and answer the front door without getting up from the toilet.
- The Finnish government ran a study of the quality of all spectacles on sale in the country. The results concluded that they were all as good as one another. Newcomers to the market Specsavers ran a front-page advert congratulating a rival optical chain on being just as good as them. Specsavers' products are about a third of the price.
- The DVD Verdict review for Battlefield Earth comments that "You know you have a stinker the size of Texas on your hands when the best review quote they could find for the box was '...great scene transitions and some of the better special effects of the year...'" The reviewer himself takes it even further in "The Evidence" part of his review (where praise of a film's good qualities normally goes) by going, "Umm...lemme see...the DVD itself is a picture disc. And there are end credits. See, I can spot the good in everything if I try."
- A review quoted on the back cover of a Lensman novel by E.E. "Doc" Smith reads: "Fine for science fiction addicts." It's like an endorsement for methadone.
Anime and Manga
- In Doujin Work, when Najimi shows Tsuyuri and Justice her first story, the first thing they compliment is the quality of the paper.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, after Einhart easily defeats Vivio in their first sparring match, Vivio asks if she thought she did poorly. Einhart replies that she did well for someone who does not approach Strike Arts seriously.
- In Silver Spoon, when Yugo looks at Aki's grades, the only thing he finds to say is that she is better than Tokiwa. It doesn't do much to cheer her up.
- In Assassination Classroom, Okajima reassures Kayano that "someday, somewhere" her body type will be considered desirable.
- In a Josie and the Pussycats comic, all the Pussycats can say about a band that wanted to open for them was "Um... they have nice hair."
- Knives Chau takes this route in Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, when telling the newly formed Shatterband what she thought of their first performance ("You guys have so much potential!"). Young Neil opts for Brutal Honesty instead.
- In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin reasons that Santa will deem him nice because he hasn't committed any heinous acts such as murder.
- In The Stalking Zuko Series, Teo says that sea prunes are not the worst thing he's eaten, and considering that he's had to eat grass as a refugee, this isn't saying much.
- My Dark King features an inversion, with Supreme King Judai claiming to be "a fair bit weaker" than the Crimson Dragon. The Crimson Dragon is a 5,000-year-old Mesoamerican deity that regularly matches and exceeds entities of world-destroying power, so the fact that Judai is even comparable is practically a Badass Boast.
- The Second Try: Rei resorts to this to critique a drawing of her. It works because the artist is only three.
"How you like it?" she eventually ended Rei's wondering.
Taken aback, the teen didn't answer immediately. Being honest was likely to hurt the girl's feelings, and Rei didn't want that. But wouldn't she also do the same by lying to her?
"The... shade of blue is well chosen," she eventually settled for.
Films — Animated
- Parodied in The Emperor's New Groove, where Kuzco insults a row of girls with offhand remarks, most of which are directly insulting, but to the final one he says, in very sarcastic tones, "Let me guess, you have a great personality?". Even better is the fact that they all look identical. The fact that the other girls have to physically restrain the last one to keep her from attacking Kuzco shows that she's well aware it wasn't a compliment.
- In Disney's Aladdin, an unintentional example of this nearly trips up our hero.
Aladdin: Princess Jasmine, you're very...um...
Genie: (whispering suggestions in his ear) Wonderful! Magnificent! Glorious!... Punctual!
Aladdin: (blurts) Punctual!
Princess Jasmine: (bewildered) Punctual?
Aladdin: Uh... uhh... beautiful!
Genie: Nice recovery.
Vlad: Well?Sophie: Well, she answered every question.
- In Shrek 2, Fiona's parents are shocked that she has married an ogre, and she is asked where she lives.
Fiona: Well...Shrek owns his own land. (nervous laugh) Don't you, honey?Shrek: Oh, yes. Heh-heh. It's in an...enchanted forest. Abundant in...squirrels, and...cute little duckies, and...Donkey: What?! (laughs) I know you ain't talkin' about the swamp!
Films — Live-Action
- In Amadeus, this trope practically defines Mozart's relationship with Salieri. In one scene he says to Salieri, "I did some variations on a piece of yours. A funny little tune, but it yielded some good things."
- In Tim Burton's Ed Wood, the only positive thing found in any review on one of Ed Wood's plays is "The soldiers' costumes are very realistic". The director, being Ed Wood, desperately tries to spin this into something positive later on: "Victor Crowley himself praised its realism".
- In Kill Bill, Bill, when asked for his opinion about the Bride's fiancé (whom he later more honestly describes as a "fucking jerk"), says "I like his hair."
- In Robert Altman's Popeye, Olive Oyl sings "He's Large," which is faint praise for her fiancé Bluto. The only positives she can come up with are his large stature and the fact that "he's mine." Her friends giggle, "You can have him!"
- This Is Spinal Tap: Spinal Tap is described as "England's loudest band". The band themselves don't find this particularly faint, of course - after all, they are the Trope Namer for Up to Eleven. Because it's one louder.
- Apparently the best that whoever designed the DVD case for Beverly Hills Chihuahua could come up with was "The Greatest Chihuahua Movie of All Time". Considering that the only real competition for that title are the sequels, that's not a difficult feat.
- In Chaplin, Charlie admits that he's marrying his very young lover because he thinks she's carrying his child. When he insists "she's really not that bad", his friend quips "Spoken like a man madly in love."
- In Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, Tucker's not great at pep-talks.
Tucker: You are a good-lookin' man... more or less. You got a damn good heart. [Beat] That's two things right there.
- Familiarity with this trope causes confusion in this scene from When Harry Met Sally..., in which Harry tries to set up his friend on a blind date with Sally:
Jess: So you're saying she's not that attractive?
Harry: No, I told you she's attractive.
Jess: But you also said she has a good personality.
Harry: She has a good personality. (pause) What?
Jess: When someone's not attractive, they're always described as having a good personality. [...] So which is she?
Jess: But not beautiful, right? (gets a death glare from Harry)
- Reversed by Dorothy L. Sayers in Murder Must Advertise. At one point, describing one character's comments on another, our detective protagonist Lord Peter uses the phrase "...praise him with faint damns".
- In Maskerade, Agnes Nitt is tired of being described as having "a wonderful personality and good hair", as if that were all there was to her.
- In Feet of Clay Captain Carrot is writing home and struggles to find something positive to say about Nobby, eventually settling for "is still Nobby, only more than he was".
- Similarly in Men at Arms, when discussing who might be promoted to captain of the guard, Carrot says he's too inexperienced, Colon absolutely doesn't want the job and Nobby... "is more suited in his current role" is the description he eventually settles on.
- In Jane Yolen's historical novel Queen's Own Fool, when Queen Mary is about to marry Darnley, she asks her friends' opinion of him. They don't want to upset her by pointing out that Darnley is a Jerkass, so they dodge the issue by praising his other qualities.
- For lack of anything better to say, Jack Ryback from Mike Nelson's Death Rat! at one point earnestly praises his literary agent as "the most well-groomed man I've ever met."
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- Sansa is unable to think of any honest compliments for young king Joffrey except that he is "comely". It's pretty much the only good thing about him.
- The only honest compliment that Ned can give Robert about his reign was that he was a better king than his predecessor.
- Griff says that Ser Rolly Duckfield is a "solid" man, but disagrees with him being raised to the Kingsguard. He worries that, at this rate, the illustrious order will be filled with men "each more blindingly adequate than the last."
- In The Caine Mutiny, the protagonist, Willie Keith, is horrified to find that he has been rated as "Above average" (meaning generally useless, despite it actually being a 3/5 rating) on his service testimonial. Lt. Commander DeVriess adds that Keith "[...] seems to have the potential for becoming a capable officer [...]."* It doesn't take a genius to realize that he is being disparaging.
- Red Dwarf: The Least Worst Scripts.
- The Sprightly Companion, a musical instruction book published by Henry Playford in 1695, describes the oboe as 'not much inferior to the Trumpet.'
- In the beginning of Reserved for the Cat, Ninette Dupond is chosen to fill in for the star, La Augustine (who has sprained her ankle) for a matinee production of the ballet La Slyphide. She has done a good job, but the following day, she and the other sujets (soloists) are reading the reviews and most of them are about the star's injury and her performance rated only, "Sujet Ninette Dupond was called upon to replace the etoile and managed a creditable, if sometimes naïve, interpretation." One of the other sujets laughs and comments, "You are damned with faint praise, Ninette." (It's the one good review from La Figaro, the newspaper thought to be for artists and thinkers, that causes trouble for Ninette.)
- The Drowned Cities: Mahlia informs soldier-boy Ocho that she saved his life because "you act almost human," in contrast to his even more sadistic comrades.
- Emma: Emma really resents Mrs Elton. Her close friends know about her opinion and they quite agree because Mrs Elton is really obnoxious. However, Emma doesn't want other people to know about it, so she might mention that Mrs Elton is "very pleasant and very elegantly dressed".
- In the Boojumverse, Christian Cultists are known for being eager to speak well of everyone. Thus, when the only praise they can give Station Master Lee is to say that she doesn't actively persecute them, Izrael knows that Lee must be a very terrible Station Master indeed.
- In Wolf Hall, after Thomas Cromwell returns from a trip he tells his wife Liz that she's sweeter to look at than Cardinal Wolsey was. She laughs and tells him "that's the smallest compliment a woman ever received", which he jokes is a shame because he was working on it the whole way home.
Live Action TV
- Our Miss Brooks: In "The Model Teacher", a Snap magazine reporter "compliments" Miss Brooks' clothes: "That's a very nice suit...One can tell at a glance that it's worn you for years."
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Buffy: A lot of people came to my Welcome Home party.Willow: But they were eaten by zombies.
- Willow's excited to hear that since Angel came to our fair shores about eighty years ago, there are no reports of him hunting ("Angel"). She reads this as proof that he is a good vampire. "I mean, on a scale of one to ten, 10 being someone who's killing and maiming every night, and 1 being someone who's... not."
- In "Prophecy Girl", Xander takes the plunge and asks out Buffy. She's at a loss for words. "Well, you're not laughing, so that's a good start."
- In "School Hard", Joyce wonders what Buffy's teachers will have to say about her scholastic performance. "Well," Buffy declares, "I think they'll all agree that I always bring a pen to class, ready to absorb the knowledge."
- Willow congratulates Buffy from moving on from Angel ...then makes the mistake asking the Scoobies if they approve of the new guy, Scott. "He didn't try to slit our throats or anything," quips Cordelia. "It's progress." ("Faith, Hope, and Trick")
- Buffy concedes that she's not popular. But she's not exactly unpopular! ("Homecoming")
- In "Earshot", Hogan feigns excitement at Percy's improved verbal skills. "I actually heard him complete a sentence," he tells Willow. "It had a clause and everything."
- At a pep rally in the same episode, Oz muses that the cheerleaders' spelling has improved.
- In "Graduation Day pt. 2", Snyder congratulates the Class of '99, saying that they were "more or less adequate."
- Roseanne: Beverly used this trope often. When Roseanne disapproves of her daughter moving into a trailer park, she intentionally sends Beverly in with the directions to "be as nice as possible."
Beverly: Well, it must be nice being able to vacuum the entire home without having to change outlets.
- In 30 Rock, Liz explains that whenever Jenna performs in a horrible production she always finds some small point to legitimately compliment so that it can seem like she enjoyed it. When she tries it in "The Rural Juror", however, Jenna describes it as Liz being mocking by highlighting some small point. There are two sets of flashbacks in the episode, one from each of their perspectives; Liz's depicts her as attempting to be kind, while Jenna's emphasizes the condescension and insulting aspect.
- The main premise of an iCarly episode: Carly's webshow lands a sponsorship from a new type of wonder shoe. When the shoe fails to deliver, the team piles on "faint praise" to fulfill the contract without lying to their fans.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation:
Riker: You're a good worker, reliable... punctual.
- The episode "Tapestry" has Picard changing the past and not getting involved in the fight that caused him to need to get his heart replaced with an artificial one. Thus, he became a Lieutenant Junior Grade paper pusher instead of a legendary starship captain. When he goes to Troi and Riker asking about his performance, they end up falling into this.
- In the episode "The Chase", Picard's old archaeology professor describes one of his papers as "informative", to which Picard himself replies "Damning with faint praise."
- The characters argue over what faint praise they could offer Joey's awful T.V. show: "The lighting was O.K."
- Another one had Ross promising to play rugby. Rachael reassured him that he was the toughest palaeontologist that she knew.
- In "The One With The Butt," the friends struggle to give Joey's play faint praise, before Chandler breaks the ice by bluntly declaring it "awful."
- An episode of Black Books has Manny, suddenly missing his job at the bookshop, trying to find a nice thing to say about the place. He eventually concludes that there was no love, freedom, or largeness of heart, but "I was not contractually obligated to have sex with foreign businessmen, and that's not nothing!"
- From an early episode of Frasier:
Frasier: Niles, you're a good brother and a credit to the psychiatric profession.
Niles: You're a good brother too.
- In an episode of Murphy Brown, Frank, Murphy and Jim attend the premier of a movie made by Corky's husband, and come out having utterly hated it. Frank then tells Murphy and Jim that in these circumstances he usually complements the movie's cinematography. Phil then walks in:
Phil: So how was the movie?Frank: The cinematography was excellent!Phil:...that bad, huh?
- Big Wolf on Campus episode "That Swamp Thing You Do!", possibly combined with Stealth Insult:
Tommy: So, what did you think of my acting skills?Merton: I think you combined the articulation of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the emotional range of Jean-Claude Van Damme.Tommy: Thanks, man!
- In season one of Angel Angel and Wesley describe Cordelia's acting as having "good projection" and said that she had "taken the role and made it her own."
- Of Oliver's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Slings and Arrows, the janitor diplomatically says, "The production values are very high." And they are; it's just a shame that half the actors are crap and the blocking means you can't actually hear the delivery of the good ones. In the audience, the minister of culture is listening to the hockey game on a portable radio - and in the tech booth, the stage manager and Oliver himself are watching it on TV.
- An episode of Dexter has the Trinity Killer receive faint praise from his family on Thanksgiving. He catches on, which goes poorly for his family.
- In Doctor Who episode "Flesh and Stone", River arguably gives one about the Doctor. The army captain asks her "Do you trust this man?" She replies, "I absolutely trust him." "He's not some kind of madman?" In the exact same tone as before: "... I absolutely trust him." He catches on, though, and warns her that he doesn't like it.
- The Eighth Doctor tries to convince Cass that he's not one of those Time Lords, who have wrought destruction upon the universe during the Time War, by saying that he's "one of the nice ones". This doesn't work, and she chooses to die rather than trust him. He refuses to leave her side and dies too.
- Game of Thrones:
- Catelyn agrees for one of Lord Walder's daughters to marry her son Robb. She relays that Lord Walder said that several of them would suitable. When asked to describe them she starts "One was..." and stops, apparently unable to think of a compliment and settling for confirming she's "suitable".
- Jaime Lannister ends up being forced to undergo an extremely painful surgical procedure in order to prevent an infection from spreading. For extra creepiness, the doctor presiding over this treatment is Qyburn, a mildly-psychotic Maester stripped of his rank and chain of study for immoral experimentation. Fortunately, the treatment works, and Jaime eventually compliments him on being "far better at this sort of work than Grand Maester Pycelle." He actually meant this as a genuine compliment, but Qyburn clearly doesn't think much of his former colleagues among the Maesters and even less of the admittedly corrupt Grand Maester, and only replies "Faint praise, my Lord."
- Shae mentions that every man she cooks for compliments what a good whore she is.
- In "Mockingbird", Jaime praises Tyrion's epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech from the previous episode as something all of King's Landing will be talking about for days to come.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- In one, Ashley is afraid that she won't make any friends at her new school. Phil says that she has a great personality. Her response? "Great! Now I'm ugly."
- In another episode, the characters are arguing over who is Phillip Banks' favorite child and will inherit his fortune. At the end, Phillip tells each one that he loves them equally and the reason why. When he gets to Hilary, he can't think of anything better than "Nice earrings!".
- In Newsradio, a whole episode is devoted to the news staff getting angry over a review describing their station as "adequate." When Jimmy James hears about it, he admits that the reviewer is on his payroll and he wrote the review himself, believing that "adequate" is a good compliment.
- In The Nanny episode "Deep Throat", C.C. wants Maxwell to be her date at a sorority reunion:
C.C.: (enthusiastically) I just can't wait to show you off to all my old friends, (becoming embittered) with their handsome doctor husbands and their 2.5 perfect children they juggled while earning multiple PhDs...Maxwell: C.C., there's no need to be jealous. You have a successful career and, uh... a successful career.
- In Power Rangers RPM, after being informed that she's been cold to the Rangers, K turns to each in term, gives them (incredibly awkward and unintentionally backhanded, but well-meaning) compliments, calls them by name (which she previously hadn't done much), and gives them an (equally awkward) hug. Then she turns to Ziggy, the one character most likely to accept this, and all she does is nod and say "You too, Series Operator Green," and walk off. Ziggy is outright insulted by this. Implied to be a subversion, at least in intent; she actually seems to have a crush on Ziggy and has no idea how to express it.
- Six Feet Under: Russell, Claire's then soon-to-be boyfriend, complains to Claire that nobody ever considers him "hot". At best he gets "cute", and it doesn't help that most people think he's gay, and he's constantly hit on by guys.
- The opening of The Muppets Go to the Movies includes hilariously-vague faux reviews saying things like "One of the T.V. programs ever made" and "Even better than that".
- In Jessie, while seeing a horrible performance by officer Petey and being asked for a opinion. Zuri says that he is a "better actor than policeman".
- Family Matters: When Carl is asked to testify during an in-school "court session" about Steve's destructive tendencies, the only positive thing he can say is, "... I still have my health!"
- In this Mr. Show sketch, the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) attempts to bolster their public image with an ad campaign reminding the public that they're not serial killers. It wins the award for Best Improved Image at the Awards for Advertising American Ads. The audience gets so disgusted with the pro-NAMBLA PSA that even a member of NAMBLA takes offense.
- In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode, "The Gang Dines Out", Mac forces Dennis to say something nice to him. This is the best Dennis could come up with:
Dennis: ...Your hair looks small.
- In Strangers with Candy, Teacher Chuck Noblet to protagonist Jerri Blank's stepmother Sara: "Jerri certainly is one our of students."
- In Daredevil, Irish criminal Elliot "Grotto" Grote is killed by the Punisher despite Nelson & Murdock's best efforts to protect him. Only Matt Murdock, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson show up for his funeral. Father Lantom doesn't sugarcoat Grotto's life or attempt to avoid speaking ill of him. The most positive thing he can say about Grotto is that he went to and donated to the church, and explains to Matt afterwards that if they ignore his criminal past, there was no learning from it.
- Flight of the Conchords: New Zealand's fourth most popular digi-folk duo.
- One review of Pink Floyd's album Ummagumma (acknowledged even by the band itself as being part of its Dork Age) called it "an admirable record to fall asleep to".
- The Soundgarden album "Ultramega Ok". (The band were dissatisfied with the production but happy with the songs themselves)
- In their stage performances, veteran Irish folk group the Dubliners would often credit their late member Barney as being "probably the best banjo player in the whole of the Dubliners."
- Keith Moon, The Who's Cloudcuckoolander drummer, once made the bold claim that he was "the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world".
- On at least one of his album covers, Tom Lehrer cheerfully included lines from a brutal series of newspaper reviews, ending with the Oakland Tribune's "Plays the piano acceptably."
- Cabin Pressure:
- Martin responds to Arthur's Christmas gift with "Thank you, Arthur, it's just what I... least expected."
- Douglas gives Martin a job reference stating that "other than myself, there is no one at MJN whose skills as a pilot I rate higher." They're MJN's only two pilots.
- Arthur thinks pretty much everyone is, in his words, "brilliant", so when he's asked to describe his father and the best he can come up with is "he's all right", Martin's immediate reaction is "God, he must be awful!" Later in the same episode, Carolyn greets Arthur's father (her ex-husband) with "Hello, Gordon. How necessary to see you."
- The book Theatrical Anecdotes speaks of a producer who, when invited to a friend's show that really sucked, would congratulate them with the phrase, "My dear! Good is not the word!"
- In Hairspray, Tracy's mother thanks Velma Von Tussle for letting Tracy appear on her TV show (she didn't, actually; the decision had been made without her and she protested vehemently). Velma diplomatically replies, "Well, Tracy has certainly... redefined our standards."
- Robin is talking to Rose about Richard, beginning by saying he'll "stand up for Dick through thick and thin!". However, every single thing Robin says about Richard, although masquerading as a compliment, is in fact nothing of the kind.
- When Rose asks Robin whether Richard is like most sailors in that he is "worldly", he says, "And what then? Admit that Dick is not a steady character, and that when he's excited he uses language that would make your hair curl. Grant that — he does. It's the truth, and I'm not going to deny it. But look at his good qualities. He's as nimble as a pony, and his hornpipe is the talk of the Fleet!"
- When Rose asks if Richard drinks, Robin says, "Well, suppose he does, and I don't say he don't, for rum's his bane, and ever has been. He does drink — I won't deny it. But what of that? Look at his arms — tattooed to the shoulder!"
- Finally, when Rose wonders whether Richard would cheat on her while he was away on a sailing voyage, Robin says, "Granted—granted—and I don't say that Dick isn't as bad as any of 'em. You are, you know you are, you dog! a devil of a fellow--a regular out-and-out Lothario! But what then? You can't have everything, and a better hand at turning-in a dead-eye don't walk a deck! And what an accomplishment that is in a family man!"
- In The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic worries if Ruth is not as beautiful as other women are, and the pirates struggle to say good things about her:
Pirate King: Oh, Ruth is very well, very well indeed.
Samuel: Yes, there are the remains of a fine woman about Ruth.
- In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Doctor Frank-N-Further asks his servants on their opinion of Rocky, his latest creation. While Riff Raff and Magenta offer lavish praise, Columbia enthusiastically says "He's okay!" The doctor doesn't appreciate that.
- An excerpt from Veronica's diary in Heathers:
Kurt Kelly. Quarterback. He is the smartest guy on the football team, which is kind of like being the tallest dwarf.
- Mr Puntila and His Man Matti: After Puntila, while drunk, has said about the attaché, fiancé of his daughter Eva, that he "isn't a man", Eva defends the attaché in conversation with Matti as "an intelligent and kind man whom you can't judge by his appearance, or by what he says or what he does."
- In Beautiful Katamari, if the King of All Cosmos isn't impressed with your rolling results, but still turns it into a star, he'll observe "At least it doesn't take up much space..." Of course, he doesn't shy away from straight insults, either...
- In Assassin's Creed I, the Rafiq in charge of the Assassin Bureau in Damascus will tell Altaïr that he deeply envies him. Well, except for the fact that his arrogance got Altaïr stripped of his rank and equipment, and got him stabbed in the gut, and every other Assassin hates him now.... or rather, is now able to openly hate his guts.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, The Warden is offered a vote on how to dispense with a magical criminal responsible for poisoning a nobleman. The Warden can give a response like "He did agree to help us... though he didn't have much choice", to which the Arl calls the trope out by name.
- In Pokémon Vietnamese Crystal, the second gym leader, oddly enough, does this to himself when he says, "I'M NOT DEFEATED BY EVERYONE."
- Golden Sun: Dark Dawn's character bios list Karis, an overbearing and easily-annoyed Tsundere, as the "most levelheaded" of the starting three characters. This speaks volumes (or not) about Matthew, the hero.
- The introduction to Shadowrun Returns explains that you are currently living in an apartment that has four walls, a roof and isn't on fire. Also there are no cockroaches because they have higher standards.
- The Disciple, from Knights of the Old Republic II, will give you a laundry list of complaints he has with the Jedi if you ask him: they're arrogant, they're out of touch, and their greatest Knights keep on falling to the dark side. But he will concede that people are wrong to conflate them with the Sith, and they do have symbolic value. He supposes.
- Tales of Xillia has a moment of Alvin and Milla discussing her getting some training in her swordsmanship in, though she is less than adequate at fighting at this point. Cue Alvin giving her a faint praise.
Alvin: If nothing else, you know how to swing the pointy end.
- This little ditty from IGN's review of the horrendous budget game Extreme PaintBrawl 2: "There is one good thing I can say about Extreme PaintBrawl 2: it doesn't cause cancer, bursitis, or scurvy — at least according to the Surgeon General."
- Played for laughs in World of Warcraft regarding the engineering profession which at high levels allows characters to "make fantastic devices and explosives that very often work as intended."
- There is a rare inversion of the trope in Final Fantasy XIV. Gigi's, a NPC in the Goldsmith's Guild, initial criticism of the player's work ("Not fit to make a chamberpot" "an affront to the gods themselves") is so ridiculously over-the-top that "I've seen worse" is treated as high praise.
- In Shiny Days Sekai tries to defend her work ability by saying she didn't break a plate one day recently. She's so bad that when Setsuna takes over for her she manages to be a far better employee almost instantly despite her poor social skills and initial problems, eventually earning even the praise of difficult customer Manami Katsura.
- Katawa Shoujo
- When discussing grouping with Misha and Shizune, the former being the least academically gifted of all the main characters, Hisao says that Misha's handwriting is nice.
- Akira says the best part about visiting her parents' house in Scotland was that it was by the beach. She hasn't forgiven them for leaving them behind in Japan years ago.
- xkcd inverts this neatly with the UNIX 2038 problem.
- In one Boy Meets Boy strip:
Tabitha: So I'm a hideous old evil bitch from hell?
Flash: Um, I never said hideous.
Tabitha: Oh, that helps!
- The doctor's announcement after Dominic Deegan's physical exams.
- From Homestuck, regarding Jack Noir
GC: K4RK4T, H3S 4 J3RK!
GC: H3 H4S ST4BB3D YOU ON MOR3 TH4N ON3 OCC4S1ON!
CG: SOME OF THOSE STABBINGS WERE ACCIDENTAL!
CG: OK, WELL I KNOW FOR A FACT THE THIRD TIME WAS ACCIDENTAL.
But unlike Gushers which serve many practical purposes like inducing vomiting and simulating the experience of eating plump insects, these things are totally useless!
- Another one from Jane, comparing build grist to the fruit Gushers they look like:
- A prison tattooist in Something*Positive has the slogan "Come see Edna! You won't get hepatitis!"
- The Elusive Dr. Bowman of Freefall inverts this. He remarks that the Ecosystems Unlimited chief at his facility is "Dumber than von Neumann," and that he can't think more than five moves ahead in chess. Given that the former was one of the most brilliant men of the twentieth century, and the latter is well beyond most amateur Chess players, most humans would take those as backhanded compliments. Of course, given the doctor is a brilliant Neurologist and AI specialist, it's possible he still means them as insults.
- In Cinema Snob Reviews Frozen (a fan comic where The Cinema Snob reviews Frozen), Snob says that Dogs is still a step up from a zombie confederate film (which he considers some of the worst films he ever reviewed).
- In one Dumb RWBY comic, Weiss is writing to her sister about Ruby. However, because Ruby is, in order, playing with her Precious Puppy with chicken by the scythe and then stuffing a cookie up her nose, all Weiss can say is that Ruby's "Interesing" and "A person." This would explain Winter's "How appropriately underwhelming" remark when she met Ruby in the series' Volume 3.
- Gamespot has pros and cons for every game.
- Homestar Runner: Strong Sad's character bio on an old character page (which can still be found in the museum) goes like this:
"Strong Sad has been disowned by his brothers Strong Bad and Mad. On the plus side, he has good handwriting!"
- The Nostalgia Chick:
"...I'm making a positive comparison to Transformers 2. That's like making a positive comparison to backne."
- The Nostalgia Chick labels Dragonheart the best of the "dragon" movies, and acknowledges that it isn't saying much.
- While reviewing Men in Black II, she complains that It's the Same, Now It Sucks, and says that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen of all sequels tried something different.
- When rating the Disney sequels she admits that she can't quite make a "best" list, since that implies "good" or "warrants existing." Instead she makes a list of the "Least Awful." She does the same thing later when rating female superhero movies.
- Likewise in her review of The Lorax she calls Horton Hears a Who! the "least awful" Dr. Seuss movie, and notes that the best Chris Meledandri movies have only been "okay."
- From her Sister Act review: "Well, 'funny' is a strong word, as neither movie [is] particularly funny. They're easy to watch. They will hold your gaze for ninety minutes." At the end she sums things up by saying that "they're not funny, but they're fun!"
- RWBY: While Ruby is grumbling to Yang on their first night at Beacon that "it's weird not knowing anyone here", Yang replies, "How about Jaune? He's...nice!" There is a short but distinct pause as she visibly searches for a positive descriptor she can use with sincerity.
- Another example occurs when the protagonists are talking about a Faunus criminal. Weiss makes disdainful remarks about him, to which Yang replies, "They're not all bad!"
- The Cinema Snob has a moment in Violent Shit III: Infantry of Doom:
Snob: "Well, at least it's not CG gore..." [winces visibly] "What a fucking sad state we're in, when modern-day computer-infested horror films could learn something from THE VIOLENT SHIT MOVIES!"
- From the TGWTG files: The Nostalgia Critic:
- From his review of Steel when describing the casting choice of Shaquille O'Neal:
Critic: But give him some credit, though. ...He's tall.
- He does some lampshading of this during his review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen:
"Greatest adequately satisfying movie of all time! And I liked it, too."
- In one that he even feels a bit ashamed: as much as he hates How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Jim Carrey's performance is better than Mike Myers in The Cat in the Hat.
- From his review of Steel when describing the casting choice of Shaquille O'Neal:
- An inverted version of this trope is discussed in The Legend of Hercules (2014) episode of Midnight Screenings, in which Brad and Brian overhear two men talking about the film after seeing it. The first man unfavorably compares the film to the show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, stating how "much better" the show is, before adding at the end that the movie was still "pretty fucking good, though".
Brad: He liked it! He just had to shit on it first.
- The Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog song "So They Say" features numerous characters praising Captain Hammer and his relationship with Penny. When it's her turn to describe him, she says "I guess he's pretty okay".
- In Moviebob's review of Rob Zombie's Halloween II (2009), he says that it's the best Halloween film since John Carpenter's original, though he admits that, given the standards of all the Halloween movies released in between, that's not saying much. Subverted in that he enjoyed the film anyway in spite of its flaws.
- The Lizzie Bennet Diaries:
- Lizzie isn't too pleased to hear that Darcy considers her "decent enough"... His lack of social skills and tact is really astounding, considering how witty and pretty Lizzie actually is.
- Lizzie challenges her incredibly kind sister Jane to say something nice about Darcy. The only thing she can give? "He's so... ah. Eeh. He's um- no, no no... He's tall."
Lizzie: Okay! For the record, when the nicest thing Jane Bennet has to say about you is "tall", you have personality problems.
- It happens again when Caroline is trying to describe Darcy, also asked by Lizzie. And Caroline actually likes Darcy. Her struggle may not have been in finding something to praise about him, but in figuring out how to praise him without making it obvious she likes him. Either way, she never ends up spitting anything out, so the effect is the same.
- From an episode of the Dread Central Podcast regarding The Apparition:
Matt Fini: I asked a friend of mine in LA if I should bother go seeing it and he said "Eh. It's well-meaning."
- Todd in the Shadows's review of "Turn Up the Music" is actually 90% just a rant about how much Todd hates Chris Brown as a person. Partway through he remembers that he's supposed to be reviewing the song, and says that yeah, it's okay, before moving on to more hate.
Todd: "As a singer, Chris Brown is a really good dancer."
- Online newspaper The Daily describes talking-point-turned-politician Samuel “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher in their roundup of bad candidates of 2012:
Joe The Unlicensed Pipe Fitter wrote a book, which was hailed by critics as “consisting of words” and “something that now exists.”
- Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation reviews video games, and despite the Accentuate the Negative theme of his reviews, tries to come up with a few compliments. For FIFA 2013, though, he just had this to say:
"It's certainly a game."
Yahtzee: The gameplay's infinitely stronger in that it's merely bad.
- After spending a lot of time complaining about the story for Metroid: Other M, he praises the gameplay with faint damnation:
Yahtzee: If the only selling point you can think of for the cinematics is that they have voices, like every film made since 1927, then it's like saying "you have nice hair" when forced to compliment the appearance of a squinting, bucktoothed hunchback.
- From the same review, on the topic of the box blurb proudly announcing "Features Fully Voiced Movies!":
- After watching Wonder Woman brutally take down a suspect and take his blood without legal right to in the 2011 pilot, Linkara says, "At least she used a sterile needle."
- The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: When Jane asks Mr Rochester's personal assistant Grace Poole about their boss, specifically what he is like and whether he is easy to work for or if he is generally liked, Grace starts talking about his company and family. She also says that he's... a man. Eventually she manages to say he's great, but it doesn't sound too convincing. But one thing was really nice — Mr Rochester is a dog-lover.
- In Worm, Gregor the Snail has this to say about Cauldron, a group of Well Intentioned Extremists who have explained that they plan to save the world.
I would never question your morals. I know you have none.
- Tobuscus' "2nd Hottest Girl" is a parody love song about Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The second most attractive girl on a web reality show. The joke, of course, is that the singer doesn't realize that he's insulting her.
- Ultra Fast Pony. In the episode "The Pet Games", the caption writer comes up with a variety of subtitles for Rainbow Dash. These alternate between overt insults like "Professional Idiot", and more subtle insults like "Knows Her Own Name" and "Smartest Mare In Her Family" (In UFP, Dash is an only child and an orphan.).
- The Angry Video Game Nerd has only one good thing to say about Back to the Future: At least it fits in a toaster. For even more horrendous games like Plumbers Don't Wear Ties, the closest he could get to complimenting it is to say it's almost half as bad as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- The Unshaved Mouse refers to child voice actors who did less-than-stellar work as "very nice young ladies/gentlemen doing their best."
- SF Debris: has come up with everything from recommending Star Trek: Insurrection as a Star Trek film for being the shortest, to praising the episode "Human Error" for being less awful than "Unimatrix Zero".
Chuck: But then, so's a test pattern.
- When Maple Leaf LetsPlays Metroid: Other M, he tells Olive Branch that "the game itself is fine. The game itself is fine" and "very acceptable." (The story, and the ways that the story interacts with the game, however...)
- C.T. Phipps and The United Federation of Charles more or less run on this. You can tell when he really hates a game by the almost-passive aggressive way he brings up the minor-minor details which he liked.
- Parodied in this Lasagna Cat video, in which faint praises about the CGI Garfield movie and its sequel are collected from various reviews online, all set to Jurassic Park music.
- The "Still a better love story than Twilight" meme falls into this trope, as it's used by Twilight's hatedom on love stories that they find less than impressive.
- The Mark Remark: Sting said nothing at all when he "answered" the "challenge" given by Triple H, and Martin still thinks Sting has better mic skills than Roman Reigns.
- In Counter Monkey episode "Shadowrun: The Code", Spoony begins to describe a break-in that goes horribly wrong thanks to Stupid Crooks shenanigans:
Spoony: "So they start of and- and thank god they went at night! At least they got one thing right."
- This tourism ad parody describes Cleveland this way:
It could be worse though, at least we're not Detroit!
- The Simpsons:
Hutz: There's (ominous) "The Truth" (shakes head in disapproval), and there's (smiling) "The truth!" Lemme show you. (opens a brochure)
- In "The Itchy And Scratchy And Poochie Show", after showing his friends and family the "Poochie" which he's voice acting for, Homer's guests all leave muttering incoherently and Carl says "You should be very proud, Homer... you have a wonderful home."
- Also, in "Realty Bites", when Marge becomes a real estate agent, Lionel Hutz sits her down to teach her the jargon.
Marge: It's awfully small.
Hutz: I'd say it's awfully ... cozy.
Marge: That's dilapidated.
Marge: That house is on fire!
Hutz: Motivated seller!
- In "Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield", Marge mentions qualities she likes in Homer and Lisa then says, I like Bart's... I like Bart!
- In "Grampa Vs. Sexual Inadequacy", Grandpa Simpson apologizes to Homer for horribly insulting him. The best compliment he can come up with? "I was always proud... that you weren't a short man."
- Family Guy:
- In an episode, one of Peter's cutoff gags had Ringo Starr showing the rest of The Beatles a song he had just written. Their response? "Very good! We'll put this right on the fridge, right here where everyone can see it."
- When Brian made Stewie say something nice about Diablo Cody, he said, "I . . . envy the tattoo artist who had that huge canvas of arm fat to work with."
- The Cleveland Show episode "Gone With The Wind", which dealt with the sudden death of Cleveland's much-reviled ex-wife Loretta, took this trope Up to Eleven. The pastor officiating at Loretta's funeral opens the eulogy by saying that he never knew her personally, but if he'd been told anything about her beforehand, it apparently wasn't pretty, because the best he can do is list the accomplishments of other women who happened to share her name.
- On one episode of Total Drama World Tour, Beth has to come up with a haiku highlighting one of Heather's positive attributes. The first line is "Heather has ten toes," and the rest summarizes how that makes swimming easier.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man subverts this when Aunt May tries to set Peter up with Mary Jane Watson, saying she has "a wonderful personality." Peter shudders, quite certain it means she's ugly, and the phrase "wonderful personality" becomes a Running Gag. Then Peter actually meets her.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Done accidentally by Aang in 'The Cave of Two Lovers'. He and Katara aren't sure how to get out of a labyrinth, and Katara suggests that, based on the story they've read, maybe they're supposed to kiss. When Katara tries to play it cool, Aang takes it too far, acting like he wouldn't want to kiss her at all. He tries to save it by telling Katara that he'd rather kiss her than die, which he thinks is a compliment. Katara... doesn’t.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- This happens in "Lesson Zero". Twilight Sparkle, (literally) madly desperate to find a friendship problem for her weekly report to Princess Celestia, tries to make a problem by getting the Cutie Mark Crusaders to fight over her favorite childhood toy, Smarty Pants. The Crusaders aren't interested in the ratty old doll, however, but are trying to be polite about it. When pressed to compliment it, the only thing Sweetie Belle can come up with is "Um, I really like her... mane?"
- As they're wont to do, the fandom has turned this into a meme, and it's now the stock response when you're commenting on someone's poorly designed pony OC.
- Happens again in Read it and Weep, where the only thing Rarity can think of to comfort the just-hospitalized Rainbow Dash is that the hospital gowns match the curtains.
- "Suited for Success" has this happen a number of times. First when Rarity reveals the dresses she made for the other five, they can't think of anything better to say than "it's something." Later, when Rarity has Fluttershy in her dress, and asks what she thinks she says "it's...nice" and similar until Rarity browbeats Fluttershy into telling the truth. Finally, when their revised dresses are shown to them, Rarity's best compliment on the new designs is "I'm happy that you're happy."
- This happens in "Lesson Zero". Twilight Sparkle, (literally) madly desperate to find a friendship problem for her weekly report to Princess Celestia, tries to make a problem by getting the Cutie Mark Crusaders to fight over her favorite childhood toy, Smarty Pants. The Crusaders aren't interested in the ratty old doll, however, but are trying to be polite about it. When pressed to compliment it, the only thing Sweetie Belle can come up with is "Um, I really like her... mane?"
Jake: (on Daria's school photo) Wow, that's really sharp focus!
- Also in the episode "Too Cute": everybody is gushing about a minor character's new nose job, which Quinn politely says is "cute." Everybody acts as though this minor praise is a tremendous insult.
- Daria responds to a less-than-inspiring reading from Shakespeare with "Laurence Olivier, in his present state* , could not have done better."
- In an aversion, DeMartino's comment that Daria is "making me want to kill myself a little less than the processed sausages who call themselves your classmates!" was actually a show of affection by his standards.
- In the Robot Chicken sketch Ebert and Roper at the Movies (where Roper is replaced by M. Night Shyamalan after Roper comes down with a case of who-gives-a-[bleep]), the only movie Roger Ebert isn't openly scathing in reviewing falls under this trope:
Roger Ebert: Rudy was about a man who overcomes obstacles to fulfill his dream of playing football. Rudy II is about 90 minutes long.
- A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: In the episode "Horror of the Haunted Hairpiece", the pizzeria owner offers Shaggy and Scooby free samples of his bread sticks (literally, they're sticks), and Scooby says that they were "crunchy".
- In the Goof Troop episode "The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy," Goofy decides to give Pete a compliment. The compliment in question is "Pete's a swell kinda guy, once you get past his personality!" What makes this even funnier is that Goofy himself believes this is a meaningful compliment.
- King of the Hill: Hank Hill has so little in common with his son Bobby he has difficulty even faintly praising him. When Bobby is suffering from feelings of extreme stress, Peggy tells Hank to compliment him, then when Hank is speechless, she has to provide him with one; "He has nice hair." Which Hank only proceeds to turn into even fainter praise.
Hank: Your mother likes your hair.
- Whenever the accomplishments of Zapp Brannigan are listed, they're usually something that sounds both pathetically easy and morally repugnant. To whit: a carpet bombing of Eden 7, a "bloody triumph" against the pacifists of the Gandhi Nebula, and single-handedly defeating the Retiree People of the Assisted Living Nebula. This is to instantly show that Zapp's tactical skills are only matched by his morality. One particularly cringe-worthy "accomplishment" is shutting down a rampaging group of Kill-Bots, which sound impressive, until he goes on to tell you he did it by throwing wave after wave of his men at them, overflowing the robots' kill-counters and causing them to explode.
- In the Christmas episode, Leela sings of the toy-making Neptunians, "You did the best you could I guess, and some of these gorillas are okay...." The Neptunians, not used to even this much, cheer, "Hooray! We're adequate!"
- Garfield once pointed out that when your boss tries to set you up with his daughter, the more praise for things like her personality, the fatter she is.
- In Gravity Falls episode "A Tale of Two Stans", the principal of Stan's high school compares Stan and his twin brother to his parents thusly; "You have two boys. One is very gifted, and the other is sitting outside this room and his name is Stanley."
- Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked Congressman Thaddeus Stevens about the honesty of fellow Pennsylvanian Simon Cameron, who was being considered for the position of Secretary of War. Stevens replied that "I do not believe he would steal a red hot stove."note (Lincoln ended up appointing Cameron anyway, as he was too important - as a Senator for the powerful state of Pennsylvania - but punted him to the post of Minister to Russia as soon as it became clear he was no good.)
- There's a proverb in German that goes "Nice is the little brother of shitty".
- A lawsuit against Apple's iPad by Samsung was decided in Samsung's favor by the judge due to Samsung's Galaxy Tab product being "not as cool."
- In a review of a train set in a modelers' magazine, the author spent two paragraphs of a two-page feature describing the cardboard box that the set came in, praising its corrugated walls and high crush strength. The actual model got no such commendation.
- Comedian Lee Camp has pointed out Oklahoma invokes this trope on themselves with the saying/motto "Oklahoma is OK".
"That's all you've got? It's a whole state. Something there has to be better than 'okay'."
In its “good” history, Oklahoma can boast being the basis of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical and the home of Oral Roberts University' '. But if Oklahomans were to purge all their local stories which reflect “what is bad about America”, their history pages would be wiped as white as a Tulsa klansman’s hood.
- This article talks about the Oklahoma House Republicans on the Common Education Committee that voted to ban advanced placement US history courses, because they think it shows “what is bad about America”. The author warns them: If they insist to make an Orwellian Retcon on Oklahoma's story, they will Un-Person the entire state because they have very few things to be proud about":
- Comedian Anthony Clark also mocked Oklahoma's motto, acting out the hypothetical meeting during which it was voted on, where "Billy Bob" read out a list of candidates such as "Oklahoma: Some people say we don't suck!" and "Oklahoma: Trees are made of wood!"
- According to the Other Wiki, Kvass is "a non-alcoholic drink by Russian standards." Of course, Kvas done the Russian way is actually just 1% ABV — so you'd have to hammer down damn near two litres to get the same alcohol as in one weak beer, and that's even if they make it the traditional way — if not, it may be completely nonalcoholic. That doesn't stop it from tasting like a really neat combination of soda, beer, and rye bread.
- A fairly popular anecdote from the final days of Soviet Russia talks about a group of Japanese businessmen being given the grand tour. As they are shown each sight, their only comment is "you have wonderful children". Factories? "You have very beautiful children". Grand new buildings? "Your children are very well behaved". Brand news cars? "J-Just wonderful children in general". When finally cornered and pressed to comment on something beside the children, they go "You really have absolutely wonderful children here. But everything you build using your hands is TERRIBLE". The Russian guides really should have been satisfied with their faint praise.
- In the preface to his short story collection East And West, W. Somerset Maugham lampshaded this trope by commenting that a disconcertingly large number of critics described his stories as "competent."
"Now on the face of it I might have thought this laudatory, for to do a thing competently is certainly more deserving of praise than to do it incompetently, but the adjective has been used in a disparaging sense...There is evidently something that a number of people do not like in my stories and it is this they try to express when they damn them with the faint praise of competence."
- When Hardanger Fiddle players tried to compliment each other, faint praise might occur, when the master fiddlers had to say something nice to the less gifted. "The Miller Boy", reckoned to be the greatest fiddler of the nineteenth century, made this one a classic:
- You are pretty good. In fact, you are much better than a person who never touched a fiddle.
- The Jerkass practice of "negging." The idea is to shake the confidence of the negee (usually a woman one wants to pursue sex and/or a relationship with) enough to get her to seek his validation and approval. This can also be done with advertising: play on the potential consumer's insecurities (about their looks or status or whatever else)... and imply that your product will make everything better.
- As noted in Live Action TV, one of the ways in which film reviewers (and film fans in general) praise a film which is otherwise rubbish is to say "The cinematography is great", which amounts to saying that while the story might be boring, incoherent and/or offensive and the acting might be terrible, the cinematographer, camera operator and focus puller did their jobs to a reasonable professional standard.