Insult Backfire
"What is that splattered all over the drawing?"
"Chunky spaghetti sauce!"

Captain Von Trapp: If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you will be the entire trumpet section.
Zeller: You flatter me, Captain.
Von Trapp: Oh, how clumsy of me. I meant to accuse you.

A verbal equivalent of Attack Backfire, this is for when Alice comments on a trait of Bob's in a way that's intended to sound negative — but instead of being insulted, Bob acts flattered.

Usually, this is because Bob invokes the "insulting" quality intentionally. Less commonly, Bob's The Ditz or has a poor grasp of the word or concept being insulted and take it to be a positive comment. Other times, it's simply a case of Bob having the attitude of pretending that it's not an insult, or even turning it back on Alice: "Coming from you, I'll Take That as a Compliment."

A variant is for the character to be insulted, not because they dislike what was said, but because they're obviously so much worse than that.

Occasionally, the insult backfires because Alice's remarks were insulting on the surface, but Bob carries them to their logical, ultimately complimentary conclusion. These cases typically only work when the original insult was mild and/or non-malicious to begin with.

Related to Stealth Insult, but different in that an Insult Backfire is accidental and a Stealth Insult is sent over the target's head on purpose. Sometimes, it seems the only sure way to insult someones is to give them a compliment.

Not to be confused with Insult Misfire, where the target obliviously doesn't realize the insult was directed at them. Compare Threat Backfire. Compare and contrast I Take Offense to That Last One!, where there are multiple insults, but the character may only object to one of them. If you phrased your insult poorly ("You fight like my grandma!"), you may get Insult Backfire through Literalist Snarking ("You fought your grandma?"). See also Blunt "Yes", which is often based on a similar theme. Contrast Compliment Backfire (and Calling Me a Logarithm, when someone thinks a word that's not an insult or even not directed at a person is an insult). See also Insult Friendly Fire.

Common variations:
  • Villains: Calling them evil, vile, or psycho is likely to make them act Affably Evil and unusually demure from the flattery. Especially if they're of the card-carrying variety.
  • Sluttiness: Many a Vamp finds her lasciviousness high praise.
  • Alternative Lifestyles: Take your pick, but the person in question is happy with it.
  • A Trickster: Acting shocked at their underhandedness.
  • Madmen: Anyone who tells them "You're Insane!!" will be met with a response such as "Thanks for noticing!"
  • Heroic: The character being insulted is proud of his idealism, honor, heroic tendencies, or some other trait the villain tries to insult.
  • Artists: The disgust of the viewer for their work was the Intended Audience Reaction.
  • Geeks and Nerds are often proud of their geekiness/nerdiness/useless knowledge.
  • Feminine Women: The woman is a supporter of equal rights for women and sees no reason why that should stop her from displaying feminine traits.
  • Someone who's been criticized a lot over something and is at the point where they brush off insults as "Wow, Never Heard That One Before." Bonus points for critiquing the insulting technique itself.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: When a character takes someone else's sarcastic compliment towards them as a genuine compliment.
  • Rule of Funny: The character is a complete idiot who loves hearing other people talking about them, whether positively or negatively.
  • The insult was done in such a way that the target is able to turn it around with a bigger insult. For example, if someone tries to Trash Talk an opponent while using an unfair advantage in a competition (whether combat or something else) and the target is able to turn it around by insinuating or straight out saying that the individual is unable to beat them without cheating. Then again, someone like a Card-Carrying Villain could retort the retort, saying the target's soft for not being a Combat Pragmatist.
  • Being insulted by someone with a particularly negative reputation, such as a neo-Nazi, is likely to be interpreted as a compliment by the insulted party. After all, if someone that loathsome is insulting them, they must be in the right!

See also I Take Offense to That Last One!, I Resemble That Remark!, Wrong Insult Offence, Card-Carrying Villain, Tall, Dark, and Snarky and It's What I Do. If the insultee adopts the insult as an actual badge of identity, it becomes an Appropriated Appellation. Compare Geeky Turn-On, I Would Say If I Could Say, Arson, Murder, and Admiration, and Blunt "Yes". Sometimes crosses paths with Misaimed Fandom. The complete opposite of Your Approval Fills Me with Shame.


    open/close all folders 

    New Media 
  • Regular commenters on the Web site Jezebel sometimes call themselves and other members "lesbian shitasses" in response to a slur hurled at them by former actor Scott Baio's wife, who called them (and probably feminists in general) that via Twitter in a rather childish attempt to insult them.
    • A similar thing is true for commenters of Regretsy, which mocks pretentious Etsy sellers, bizarre items on Etsy, and Etsy resellers (selling bulk goods as "homemade"). One such seller called the Regretsy commenters "fat jealous losers" and the name (and the acronym FJ Ls) stuck.
    • Also true for the fighting game community, where people who only watch streams and chats (especially when it involves trolling and/or spamming) without participating in the scene proper, are referred to as "stream monsters." Said people actually embraced the term and even refer to themselves as such.

  • The Goon Show regularly uses these:
    Seagoon: You are a coward.
    Bloodnock: Seagoon, you surprise me.
    Seagoon: Why?
    Bloodnock: I didn't know you knew.
    • And:
    Greenslade: Mr. Eccles, we are not doubting your sincerity for one moment. It's just your intelligence that's in question.
    Eccles: Oh... well, I accept your apology.
  • Inverted on Adventures in Odyssey:
    Connie: Why don't you live in a style more befitting your financial status?
    Whit: You're beginning to sound like Eugene.
    Connie: There's no reason to get insulting.

  • Everything the Romans did to mock and humiliate Jesus (the thorn crown, the I.N.R.I. monicker) is now standard Church imagery.
  • A Jewish myth about a Midianite god called Ba'al Peor heavily involves this trope. According to the myth, Ba'al Peor was worshipped by squatting down before his idol and defecating. A Jew who came across his temple, unaware of this practice, wanted to express his disdain of the false god by wiping his ass on the idol's nose. Instead of outraging Ba'al Peor's priests with his disrespect, they actually praised him to high heaven, remarking that "no one before has served this idol thus".

    Tabletop Games 
  • From Magic: The Gathering, the flavor text for Agent of Masks:
    "You say that I am two-faced? Enough with the flattery. We have business to conduct.''
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, the Scorpion Clan's motto is "I can swim", from their telling of the fable of the Scorpion.
  • Dungeons & Dragons "drow" is said to be a corrupted/contracted form of old elven "dhaeraow", meaning literally "black heart" and figuratively "traitor". (Call the typical drow a traitor, and she'll see it as something to be proud of.)
    • Forgotten Realms has Khôltar, where dwarves trying to insult the human metalworking settlement nicknamed it "the Place of Pourers and Filers" — inhabitant didn't see this as an insult and ran with it.
  • A supplement to FASA's Star Trek RPG devoted to Klingons pointed out that insults often wouldn't translate very well. A Federation officer trying to insult a Klingon officer by using the old "Your mother wears army boots" line would find that it would translate to "Your maternal parent wears the footgear of a soldier" which sounds to the Klingon like an attempt to complement them on the military tradition of their line (extended family).
  • Older Than Radio: An Austrian Tarock deck from 1890 featured Otto von Bismarck, who betrayed and defeated Austria in the 7 Weeks War and was dismissed from power at the time of its printing, as the Fool. Unfortunately, the Fool happens to be the highest trump card in Tarock...

  • In BIONICLE, Vezon misinterprets a comment that he could "die horribly without being missed" as a compliment.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Little Busters!, this happens twice in the same scene when Riki teases both Masato and Haruka about being bad at or late for school and both of them act like he just complimented them. He proceeds to wonder why people keep being proud of strange things lately.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, this happens in the 8th Episode Twilight of the Golden Witch when Featherine, the Witch of Theatregoing, Drama and Spectating absolutely curbstomps Lambdadelta by stopping time, and hacking the story's script by skipping to the part where she kills her via dismemberment. Lambdadelta's dying words are calling Featherine a monster, to which she takes as a compliment.
    Featherine: A monster, she says. ...Quite a compliment, for one such as I.