Mako: Not bad.
Korra: Ugh, what does it take to impress this guy?
: 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
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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!".