Damned by Faint Praise aka: Damning With Faint Praise
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." note Since Plan 9 from Outer Space is generally considered to have a completely incoherent plot, saying another movie's plot is more coherent isn't saying very much.
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. See also So Okay, It's Average 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.
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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'!"
French comedian Patrick Timsit had a field day with this.
The Dutch Comedy show did a similar sketch where two obnoxious yuppies demolished every selling point a real estate broker 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 recently ran a study of the quality of all spectacles on sale in the country. The results concluded that they were all pretty much 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 forBattlefield 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 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.
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 her 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.
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!"
Apparently the best whoever designed DVD case for Beverly Hills Chihuahua could come up with was "The Greatest Chihuahua Movie of All Time". Considering that there are only two other movies that feature a chihuahua (both of them sequels to this one) and the fact that neither was even released when this one went to DVD that's not a difficult feat.
Tucker: You are a good-lookin' man... more or less. You got a damn good heart. [Beat] That's two things right there.
Darrell Huff's How To Lie With Statistics recommends the statement "There may be something in what you say" and all variations thereof as this, and also as a Non-Answer or Mathematician's Answer to a critique or a philosophical argument. This statement is technically true but not really very meaningful because of course there's "something" in what anyone says: words; all enunciated and everything.
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 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'sDeath Rat! at one point earnestly praises his literary agent as "the most well-groomed man I've ever met."
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 [...]."* I'm backtranslating from Swedish here, maybe someone could provide the exact quote It doesn't take a genius to realize that he is being disparaging.
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.)
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")
Buffy: A lot of people came to my Welcome Home party.
Willow: But they were eaten by zombies.
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's Beverly was queen of this trope, to the point that 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 vaccum the entire home without having to change outlets.
2010 Oscars- Steve Martin doesn't reciprocate the compliment that Alec Baldwin gives him when they introduce each other
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.
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.
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!"
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?
A Father Ted example, when Ted asks Mrs Doyle if she considered him to be one of the best priests in the country (perhaps the best?) she says that he's probably the second best priest. This sends him into a Heroic BSOD. The only two other priests in the land are a simpleminded manchild, and a senile, alcoholic pervert.
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."
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".
Played with in an example found much later in the show Jaime Lannister ends up being forced to undergo an extremely painful surgical procedure in order to prevent the infection in the stump of his sword hand 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."
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!".
Quite possibly used in Talent shows (e.g. The X Factor, American Idol) Use this as a way to appear positive, but in fact put down the contestant's possible vote.
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. His sexuality is treated ambiguously as he might be gay and in denial or just bisexual.
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 an horrible perfomance by officer Petey and being asked for a opinion. Zuri says that he is "better actor than policeman".
Mick Foley tells a story in one of his books about Owen Hart's feud with Dan Severn. Evidently, when Mick asked Owen for an opinion on Severn, Owen replied with "He's a nice guy". When Mick repeated the question, Owen responded again with "He's a nice guy".
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."
And if that wasn't enough, in the very same conversation she gets in a jab at Tracy's (rather obese) mom as well: "New dress? Yes, well. You'll stop traffic!"
In Ruddigore, 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
"...I'm making a positive comparison to Transformers 2. That's like making a positive comparison to backne."
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.
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.
An inverted version of this trope is discussed in The Legend of Hercules (2013) 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.
Yahtzee: The gameplay's infinitely stronger in that it's merely bad.
From the same review, on the topic of the box blurb proudly announcing "Features Fully Voiced Movies!":
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.
While watching Wonder Woman 2011 Pilot, when watching Wonder Woman brutally take down a suspect and take his blood without legal right to, 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.
Often on this very wiki, a description for a work will often praise the work. If the description only lists the factual information is there, it usually means either the work is little known, or the work isn't very well received and no tropers can think of anything positive to say about it.
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" note In UFP, Dash is an only child and an orphan..
The Unshaved Mouse refers to voice actors who did less-than-stellar work as "very nice 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".
In one episode, after showing his friends and family the cartoon 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, when Marge becomes a real estate agent, Lionel Hutz sits her down to teach her the jargon.
Hutz: There's (ominous) "The Truth", and there's (smiling) "The truth!" Lemme show you. (opens a brochure) Marge: It's awfully small. Hutz: I'd say it's awfully ... cozy. Marge: That's dilapidated. Hutz: Rustic. Marge: That house is on fire! Hutz: Motivated seller!
In another bit, Marge mentions qualities she likes in Homer and Lisa then says, I like Bart's... I like Bart!
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.
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.
Then, after seeing an absolutely horrendous play in “The Ember Island Players”:
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."
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.
In the Robot Chicken sketch Ebert and Roper at the Movies (where Roper is 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.
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.
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.
Unflattering letters of recommendation must resort to this. This is particularly true in Germany, where you simply are not allowed to use negative comments and traits in them, even if the employee stole half your money and hit everybody on the head. Of course this led to a whole dictionary of "when X is praised, Y is not good". "Punctual" of course is a classic, "always endeavoring" employees are the worst of the bunch (willing, but certainly not able in the least). Take that and a few code words for unacceptable behavior (mentioning the "working atmosphere" means the employee is a drunkard and/or a bully and/or a molester) and inexperienced bosses can really doom their former employees with what was meant to be praise.
Common in university recommendations from teachers, since they're often obligated to write positive comments. If the student really was absolute rubbish, look for things like "often attended class".
Obituaries had, and possibly still have, similar codes which look like faint praise, but are actually insults: "A tireless raconteur" meant the subject just would not shut up, "Affable and hospitable at every hour" meant permanently drunk, "Gave colorful accounts of his exploits" meant pathological liar, "An uncompromisingly direct ladies' man" meant frequent groper, and "Did not suffer fools gladly" meant a total shit, at least according to Stephen Fry.
Employees are generally not allowed to criticize product. When asked for their opinion, those who feel guilty about bald-faced lying will simply say that the item is "popular." Refusing to personally vouch for the item, they push the responsibility on others. It's pretty much the worst thing they can get away with saying.
In dating, compliments such as "good personality" and "funny" are generally interpreted as euphemisms for "unattractive." Which of course has the Unfortunate Implication that these are not actually positive attributes or, at the very least, inconsequential or of secondary importance.
Websites and magazines that feature professional video game reviews may have this since they're generally required to list good traits of games, and when the game in question is a real stinker the reviewer may resort to this, frequently combined with Sarcasm Mode. The Australian magazine Hyper once listed the "good" aspects of a game thus: it came with a box and was therefore easily disposable.
"You're Not Like Other Girls." as a compliment is sometimes seen as a way of saying "You are a credit to gender." But it can also be read as a Stealth Insult in the vein as calling someone "unique" or "interesting" because you didn't specify exactly how they are different.
Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked Thaddeus Stevens about the honesty of Simon Cameron, who was being considered for a cabinet position. Stevens replied that "I do not believe he would steal a red hot stove."note One report claims that Cameron demanded an apology from Stevens for this quip. Stevens "apologized", saying he took that back, i. e. implying Cameron might well steal a red hot stove after all.
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."
"Faint praise" is common in Australian casual vernacular. A well-known and common phrase is "that's ordinary" - which in real life indicates a low opinion of the subject. Depending on context, it can mean "that's unacceptable", "that's immature", "that's pathetic", "that's sub-par", "that's ugly", "that's rude", etc.
"Character home" is an expression often found in an ad for a house that is old, small and run down. Fixer-upper, rustic, quaint, handyman's dream... all synonymous with "will cost thousands of dollars to fix".
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.
This is actually quite common in model railroading magazines. Considering that a significant portion of the magazine's revenue is coming from advertisements for those very same models, reviewers are simply not allowed to criticize the models, thus leading to damning with faint praise. One review for a horrendously out-of-scale Shay engine mentioned that "Certainly Lima [Locomotive Works] could have built one like this if someone had ordered it.", the implication being that no real railroad had ever actually ordered anything even remotely like the Shay "model" at hand.
The all-too common reply, "At least you're honest" after someone expresses a morally repugnant opinion. Here's an example.
The Honest: Shows up and calls people cunts or whores etc and tells them to die in a rape fire. Their honesty is appreciated.
Referring to someone as 'unique', 'interesting', and 'unusual' can easily be seen as this.
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 Vienna you can sometimes see people wearing t-shirts proclaiming "God is quite okay" on the front and "I don't mind Jesus" on the back side.
When you start learning a foreign language, a sentence "it's interesting" can be quite useful and actually sounds impressive for a beginner. Once you reach an intermediate level, it shouldn't be over-used.
A well known Russian anecdote presents a Japanese delegation being shown a series of Russian factories, construction sites and scientific projects. At every turn, their opinion is "you have wonderful children". When finally forced to give an opinion that does not consist of faint praise, they elaborate: "You have really wonderful, beautiful children. But everything you create with your hands is terrible."note Taking into account the historical grudge the Japanese have against Russians, this is somewhat understandable.
In pick-up artist (PUA) subculture, this is known as "negging." The idea is to deliver a backhanded insult to a potential conquest to undermine her self-confidence, which will in theory make her more amenable to a PUA's advances.
Molly Ivins referred to the governor of Texas as Rick "Goodhair" Perry.
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.