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Not Bad
aka: Not Bad For An X
Mako: Not bad.
Korra: Ugh, what does it take to impress this guy?
Mako: What? I said not bad.

When someone refers to another as Not Bad, it's used to show that the person of whom it is said has won the (albeit grudging) respect of a character who initially hadn't liked them.

A variant of this is when a character refers to another as Not Bad For An X, which is usually said by a character who normally looks down on another group except for the other character. This variation is often what a supposed Superior Species would say to our plucky human hero whose proven themselves worthy in their eyes.

This is often used by people whose approval is hard to come by and expressed in terms that don't seem all that approving if you don't know them. Deadpan Snarkers are the most frequent abusers of this trope, because outright complimenting someone is out of the question for them. It's also a characteristic of The Stoic, The Spock (because his standards are just that high), people with a Stiff Upper Lip (a British person saying "not bad" may actually be an expression of unbridled approval), and is of course a subtrope of Understatement.

By the way, saying "not bad" instead of just straight up "good" is one of many examples of what's called litotes.

See also Compliment Backfire, Damned by Faint Praise, Overly Narrow Superlative, and The One Thing I Don't Hate About You. For the humorous counterpart, see Actually Pretty Funny.

Examples

Film
  • In Aliens, the android Bishop says Ripley was "Not bad, for a human.", just before he dies (or whatever it is that androids do). The point is that Ripley initially hadn't liked Bishop because he was an android; then he helped save her and the others and she admitted to him that he hadn't done badly for an android. Then the Alien Queen turned up, nearly fatally injuring Bishop and the line is an Ironic Echo of Ripley's earlier comment, she having defeated the Alien Queen.
  • Spaceballs has this example:
    Princess Vespa: Ah! My hair! He shot my hair! Son of a bitch! [shoots and destroys all their pursuers] ...How was that?
    Lone Starr: Not bad.
    Barf: Not bad, for a girl.
    Dot Matrix: Hey, that was pretty good for Rambo.
  • In the 2010 True Grit, Mattie defies Rooster and the Texas Ranger and crosses the river on her horse to come with them. Rooster observes her crossing with an appraising eye, and then says "Good Horse", as she staggers ashore.
  • In The Iron Giant, Dean, a junk yard owner who likes to make sculptures out of the junk, gets angry at the Giant for eating some of his art. The Giant, confused, puts together a bunch of half-chewed junk to try to appease Dean. Dean isn't too impressed, at first: "No, don't... that's not... that's... huh, that's Not Bad."
  • In Independence Day the President says this to David. The two have years of animosity between them due to their Love Triangle, which David ultimately won.

Literature
  • The closest Granny Weatherwax (of Discworld fame) will come to commending someone is to say something neutral implying that they were barely adequate. More often she will only comment to the effect that the person didn't fail as abysmally as she expected.
  • In The Titan's Curse, Artemis tells Percy he didn't do bad, for a man. (Before then, she had always called him a boy.)
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, when Jaime Lannister fights Brienne of Tarth, he uses this—when she successfully fends off his first attack, he concedes that she's "Not half bad, for a wench." As the duel goes on and he realizes her level of skill, it comes up again:
    Jaime: Not bad at all!
    Brienne: For a wench?
    Jaime: For a squire, say. A green one.
    • For the record, Brienne of Tarth came out on top in the end.

Live-Action TV
  • In one episode of Scrubs, Dr Cox says J.D. is "not a completely horrible doctor". J.D. recognises this as high praise.
  • An episode of Titus has Titus and Dave made a triple play in a Little league baseball game. Ken responds with "not bad," to which Titus and Dave have an over-the-top victory celebration, including a "NOT BAD" banner that drops from the ceiling.

Professional Wrestling
  • What Austin Aries has to say after Jeff Hardy beats him for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, saying Jeff briefly raised himself to Aries's level.
  • Though surprised it happened Kacee Carlisle's gave La Rosa Negra a contemptuous congratulation after learning she earned a second shot at her NWA World Women's Championship.

Video Games
  • In Sonic Generations, this is Dr. Eggman's reaction to if you hit him in the Egg Dragoon. This is, like most things, mocked in pokecapn's Let's Play of the game.
    • Also at the end of the story, Knuckles says this to Sonic who defeated The Time Eater along with his Classic self. This causes Amy to hit Knuckles for that half-hearted compliment, and said that Sonic was all great.
    • In the first Sonic/Shadow boss battle in Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow will say this after you defeat him with Sonic:
      Shadow: Not bad for an impostor.
  • In Sabres Of Infinity, If Cazarosta respects you enough to let you command the boarding party in his place, he has this to say:
    Cazarosta: You are tolerable company, try to avoid dying.

Web Comics
  • In How I Killed Your Master, the protagonist (as a boy) reflexively blocks the strike of his abusive foster parent. He (and the reader) expect him to be in serious trouble, since he wasn't supposed to be learning his martial arts style but instead he gets a "Barely competent" and his "punishment" is to run to the forest and back every day.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Not Bad seems to be the default compliment for French people. Nothing, even the best or most exceptional thing that could happen, ever ranks higher than "Not Bad".
    • Similarly in Scotland, "no' bad" is the highest praise, one step up from "awright".
    • When British Stuffiness was in full force, a completely expressionless, deadpan "not bad, I suppose" was the absolute epitome of compliments. This is changing now as the Stiff Upper Lip culture fades, but may still be used as a joking Call Back to the older times.
  • The inverse has become a common expression in German politics. With an increasing trend to never explicitly commit to any opinion, "only slightly helpful" has become the most unambiguous way to say "STFU!".


Like a God to MeCompliment TropesPatrick Stewart Speech
Not as You Know ThemCharacterization TropesNot Helping Your Case

alternative title(s): Not Bad For An X
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