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Damned by Faint Praise
aka: Damning With Faint Praise

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"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. Or maybe we’re just Trolls or Caustic Critics who feel like being clever with our insults. Break out the faint praise!

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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 when you actually use it 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 only 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. Second Place Is for Losers is also related, as a second place trophy by definition means you didn't do as good as the first place winner.

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Compare Damned By a Fool's Praise and The One Thing I Don't Hate About You. See also Wants a Prize for Basic Decency, 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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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • 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 includes a whole chapter on real estate listings, pointing out that, unless it's an objective, physical description of the house itself, everything should be taken as faint praise. Eg: "granite countertops" is good, "cozy" and "cute" are so vague as to be meaningless, "good neighborhood" means the house is terrible but there are nicer houses around. If you see an exclamation point, stay far away (it means the agent is faking enthusiasm to cover for a total lack of real qualities).
  • 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.
  • Houses in less-desirable neighborhoods will usually get write-ups along the lines of "close to schools, parks and shopping!" (since that's true of practically every neighborhood in any good-sized city).
  • 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."
  • The box of the film Dragon Kingdom lists a review quote claiming that it has "more dragons than The Hobbit films combined!" Ignoring that the presence of lots of dragons isn't exactly a universal standard of quality, those remotely familiar with The Hobbit will tell you that there's a grand total of one dragon that appears. So basically, the most positive thing they could say about the film is that there are at least two dragons in it.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Captain America: When Cap meets John Jameson, son of J. Jonah Jameson, the conversation quickly turns to how ol' J.J. feels about most superheroes. John assures Cap that his dad once said something nice about him. Once. (and by Jonah standards, that's practically gushing.)
  • DC Super Hero Girls: In the graphic novel "Space Out", Green Lantern Jessica Cruz botches her first combat simulation. Coach Wildcat tries to reassure her: "Don't worry about it, kiddo. It wasn't the worst first try I've ever seen."
  • The Eternals: The Titan Accord Experiments tried to create a new generation of Eternals, an artificial race normally bound by an Immortal Procreation Clause. The two Eternals born of the experiments were Thanos and his brother Eros, better known as Starfox. Thanos is described in the histories as a "mass-murderer on a universal scale". Starfox, a hero and member of The Avengers, simply as a "moderately successful adventurer". The experiment is deemed a failure. Much, much later, Starfox gets to read the histories and see how dismissively they describe him.
  • Josie and the Pussycats: In one comic, all the Pussycats can say about a band that wanted to open for them is "Um... they have nice hair."
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: The Legion normally explain to tryout members why they aren't accepted, such as poor temperament, weak powers, or lack of control. In the case of Arm-Fall-Off Boy, they forgo any criticism and just thank him for being willing to show up.
  • Miracleman: In the final battle, Miraclewoman tries to fight the maddened Kid Miracleman. Miracleman's internal monologue notes that "of the two, she was more graceful and controlled, more skilled and more intelligent in her attack, her moves more subtle and precise. Judging by those terms, I'd say she won." It then becomes very clear that those are the only terms under which it could be said she won that battle, as he casually defeats her in about three panels.
  • In The New Champion of Shazam!, Fawcett Community College does this to itself, with a video that starts off by saying that it's the perfect place to complete your education if you don't want to leave Philidelphia, or go to a different school in Philidelphia, and ending by boasting that the college has been nominated for "some awards".
  • Nova: One issue features an inversion of this, where the titular character ends up being praised by faint damnation. When he's hooking up with his old friends from the New Warriors, they gently make fun of the fact that he's grown far beyond them after he Took a Level in Badass in Annihilation, comparing him to being the one guy in the band who actually got famous. Nova attempts to nod off the praise by calling back to an earlier issue when he met the Silver Surfer and basically got his ass kicked... at which they point out that casually having a hostile encounter with the Silver Surfer and living to tell about it is pretty damn indicative of how strong he's become, and joke about it as if he just met a major celebrity.
  • The Punisher MAX: In The Platoon, Cuong is second in command of a frontline military unit, and when asked what his good points are, Colonel Giap merely says that Cuong loyally follows his orders and that Cuong's father is a general.
  • Rick and Morty (Oni): Morty considers it a win that Rick would rather kill a bunch of robot doppelgangers of him at Rickworld than him specifically.
  • Scott Pilgrim:
    • Knives Chau takes this route 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.
    • Ramona at one point tells Scott that he's the nicest guy she's ever dated.note 
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures: In "Appetite for Adventure", Obi-Wan tells poor Dex (who put himself through hell getting Dractuvian Cave Slugs to serve his friend) that the only reason Obi claimed them to be the best thing he ate on Dractu was because the food there is all disgusting.
  • The Transformers: Robots in Disguise: Starscream exploits this a bit, noting that he is "the best leader in the history of Cybertron." In a vacuum, this would be pretty high praise, and seem rather gracious to his reign (which was seriously corrupt, marked by constant disasters and scandals, and ended with him being given a life sentence), but everyone else was a warmonger, an imperialist, a segregationist, or a downright supervillain, so "best" is more like "least awful" — and all he had to do to earn that was to not try and kill everyone at any point.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Bloom County, at the Premature Eulogy for Steve Dallas, Portnoy pompously begins a speech "about the finer qualities of our good, deceased friend." After two Beat Panels, Opus (who in the previous strip makes a quixotic effort to Never Speak Ill of the Dead) suggests, "He could spit forty feet." Portnoy quickly and loudly wraps the speech up: "For which we loved him like a brother. Good night."
  • 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 one strip of Foxtrot Paige gives her English essay to Roger for reviewing instead of Andy. Roger proceeds to compliment the penmanship and neat margins of the paper while saying absolutely nothing about the content of the essay itself. Paige doesn't seem to mind, as she proclaims to her offscreen mother that she prefers her dad's critiquing style.
  • One particular Garfield strip went thusly:
    Garfield: Odie, you're smarter than you look.
    Odie: [begins panting happily]
    Garfield: [to audience] Although he's still dumb enough to think that's a compliment.
  • A meta-example involving both of the above strips: Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson once "complimented" the Garfield strip as "consistent."

    Films — Animation 
  • 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?
    Genie: Sorry.
    Aladdin: Uh... uhh... beautiful!
    Genie: Nice recovery.
  • Anastasia:
    Vlad: Well?
    Sophie: Well, she answered every question.
  • The trailer for Bébé's Kids ends with the line "It's animation..." Gives you an idea of the overall quality if this is the best they can say about it. To be fair it's actually supposed to be "it's animation... with an attitude" but a technical glitch caused it to cut off. This was later fixed, but most (including The Nostalgia Critic who popularized the glitched version) would agree the original glitched trailer was a lot more accurate than the fixed one.
  • Coco: When Héctor and Miguel learn he's the latter's long-lost great-great-grandfather, Héctor laments that he's a pretty poor excuse for one. When Miguel tries to reassure him that two seconds ago he thought he was related to a murderer and Héctor is a total upgrade by comparison, Héctor is, unsurprisingly, not convinced.
  • 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.
  • The Little Mermaid: Eric is presented with a large, extremely gaudy statue of himself and raises his eyebrow, less than pleased, while his dog Max snarls at the statue in complete disapproval.
    Eric: Uh, gee, Grim. It's uh... it's... it's really something.
  • Shrek:
    • Shrek: As Shrek leads Donkey through a swamp, Donkey complains about its miserable state and wonders aloud who would be crazy enough to live there. Shrek replies that this is actually his home. Donkey immediately showers the swamp with (rather weak) compliments.
    • 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 another scene, after Mozart attends a performance of Salieri's music, Mozart compliments him with "I never knew music like that were possible. One hears such sounds and what can one say, but - Salieri!"
  • 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 Bridget Jones's Diary, Jeffrey Archer makes a cameo appearance as himself at a book launch. Bridget, who's giving the introductory speech, spots him in the crowd just after she's described the book her company is publishing as "the greatest book of our time" ... and goes on to tell Archer that "yours aren't bad either".
  • 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."
  • Dance of the Dead: An accidental version. While they're surrounded by zombies, Gwen finds out Steven had wanted to go to prom that afternoon. Steven says that he chickened out due to believing she would have said no and Gwen replies (with an earnest smile) that if it was a choice between being at prom with him and being chased by zombies, she would have chosen him. Steven takes it in the spirit it was meant rather than how it came out.
  • 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 Office Space, Tom has an idea for a fad toy he calls the "Jump to Conclusions Mat." Peter flat out tells him it's a terrible idea. Later on in the film, Tom is showing off a finished prototype of the mat. Peter, trying to be kind, says "It's... exactly as you described."
  • In Poor Pretty Eddie, Liz's opinion on Eddie's off-key singing is "It's better than lots that I've heard before."
  • 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 Spın̈al Tap: One critic praises the band as "very punctual". They're also quite proud of their reputation as "England's loudest band."
  • 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?
    Harry: Attractive.
    Jess: But not beautiful, right? (gets a death glare from Harry)

    Music 
  • Flight of the Conchords:
    • The band bills itself as New Zealand's fourth most popular digi-folk duo.
    • "The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)" is all about this. The speaker hits on a girl by telling her that she's the most beautiful girl in the "whole wide room" and that when she's walking down a street, she'd probably be among the top three hottest girls on the street (depending on the street).
  • One review of Pink Floyd's album Ummagumma 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."
  • In the "Weird Al" Yankovic album Polka Party!, the song "Good Enough For Now" is all about this. His momentary lover is described as "pretty good", "above average", "the woman that he's (not really) always dreamed of", and he doesn't plan to leave her... until "something better comes along".

    Podcasts 
  • Interstitial: Actual Play:
    • It crops up when the party encounter Merlin in Twilight Town. He thinks the dropout from Yen Sid's class is Edith rather than Criss, and Criss defends her by claiming that she doesn't have nearly the potential Yen Sid looks for in a student and would never be taught by him.
    • Again near the end of the first season. While trying to brag about his companions, Criss gives impressive images of Edith and Roxanne and then implies the most interesting thing about Marche is that he can drive a car.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Mick Foley tells a story in one of his books about Owen Hart's feud with Dan Severn. Evidently, when Mick asked Owen how his match went with Severn, Owen replied with "He's a nice guy." When Mick repeated the question, Owen responded again with "He's a nice guy."

    Radio 
  • 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."

    Tabletop Games 

    Theatre 
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • 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.
    • The Major-General unknowingly does this to himself in his song. His military knowledge includes impressive things like being able to "tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin" and knowing more about tactics than "a novice in a nunnery". Several of his other boasts are unimpressive if you know what he's talking about — for instance, he knows "the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes." The Croaking Chorus in question is just the Greek onomatopoeia for "frog noise." So it's basically "ribbit."
  • 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.
  • 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 Trial by Jury the Judge's ex-wife is described by her father as being able to pass for forty-three, in the dusk, with the light behind her.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
    • In the second game, near the end of "Farewell, My Turnabout," the Judge does this to Matt Engarde, when it seems as though the person's guilt can no longer be proven.
      Judge: To be honest, I can't think of you as a truly innocent and good person. You have done enough evil to drive a woman to suicide. But... At least on the charge of murder, it would appear you are innocent.
    • In the third game, Godot, the primary prosecutorial rival, is a coffee addict who drinks 17 cups per case. However, when he discusses the rather awful restaurant Tres Bien, he has this to say about the expensive coffee.
      Godot: It's special, I'll give you that. It's worth a sip just for the experience.
    • In Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Wesley Stickler, a college student with a knack for Feigning Intelligence, recalls a professor saying, "At least you have good eyesight, Stickler. I'll give you that," and is dumb enough to think it's genuine praise.
    • In The Great Ace Attorney, shortly after Ryunosuke and Susato meet Inspector Gregson. Herlock Sholmes' famed rival.
      Susato: Mr. Sholmes is equally complimentary about you, Inspector, isn't he? You've earnt his highest praise! 'Gregson is the pick of a bad lot of all the Scotland Yarders!' Those were his own words!
      Ryuosuke: ...That's his highest 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.

    Web Animation 
  • In the penultimate episode of DEATH BATTLE! Season 6, Deadpool vs. The Mask Wiz and Boomstick do this on purpose to annoy Deadpool as payback for when he annoyed them in previous episodes, downplaying his strength to that of a normal human (such as his "Feats" of standing up and holding a gun) while Wade tried to point out the more impressive feats of pulling a 6 ton helicopter or kicking foes through concrete walls, he ends up getting mad when they downplayed his speed to a similar degree, pointing out that he was outrunning a plane at the time.
    Deadpool: (while Wiz and Boomstick smirk at each other) Jesus H. Christ almighty, do some research for once, you frauds!
  • 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!
    • In the Strong Bad Email "rock opera", an Easter egg shows the "rave reviews" for Strong Bad's rock opera include reviews like "SBEMAIL! is a triumph of some sort!" and "SBEMAIL! is better than a goat!"
  • In Puffin Forest Ben made a video about 4th Edition D&D, which is generally hated by fans. Ben wanted to make his video more upbeat but the more he wrote the more he remember just how aggravating it was to play. He consciously stops at one point to try and come up with a good thing to say about 4e and can only point to the books having good formatting.
  • 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.
    • The protagonists are talking about a Faunus criminal. Weiss makes disdainful remarks about him, to which Yang replies, "They're not all bad!"
    • When Nora is espousing her team's achievements, she mentions "Glynda barely yells at us any more!"
  • 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:
      Yahtzee: It's certainly a game.
    • After spending a lot of time complaining about the story for Metroid: Other M, he praises the gameplay with faint damnation:
      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.
    • His Judging By The Cover series discussed this when critiquing the poster for Fantastic Four (2015), along with Polish the Turd.
      Yahtzee:I love it when film marketers have to fall back on "from the studio that brought you". The usual starting point in the quality-by-Association Fallacy is "from the director that brought you", followed by "from the producer that brought you", which is desperate in itself, and this is the final resort: a small handful of the guys involved in the creation of an unrelated good thing work in the same building as us, and you never know, maybe we caught some talent off the toilet seats."
    • One of his categories in "Games of the Year" is "Top 5 Blandest" (reflecting So Okay, It's Average titles). In 2017, he handed the #3 spot to Destiny 2, noting that "sorry you couldn't be higher on the list, but hey, there is something appealingly ironic about coming third in a mediocrity contest."

    Webcomics 
  • 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!
  • 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).
  • The doctor's announcement after Dominic Deegan's physical exams.
  • In one Dumb_RWBY comic (later turned into a RWBY Chibi skit), Weiss is writing to her sister about Ruby. However, because Ruby is, in order, using a chicken on her scythe to play with her Precious Puppy and eating a cookie through her nose, all Weiss can say is that Ruby's "Interesting" and "A person." This would explain Winter's "How appropriately underwhelming" remark when she met Ruby in the series' Volume 3.
  • 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 General Protection Fault, after Ki recalls how her former fiancé Sam had apologized for trying to rape her, she says, "I'll give him credit for seeming sincere," but mentions that she couldn't forgive him and that she called off the engagement.
  • Girl Genius: When Martellus usurps the throne of the Storm King from his cousin Tarvek (mostly by killing anyone who tries to take it from him), numerous factions scheme to put Tarvek back in power. Nobody really has any idea what kind of king Tarvek would be or expects anything particularly impressive from him, but everyone agrees he can't possibly be worse than Martellus.
    Agatha: Am I the only one who actually likes Tarvek?
    Krosp: I like him. He thinks like a cat!
  • 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!
    GC: >8|
    CG: OK, WELL I KNOW FOR A FACT THE THIRD TIME WAS ACCIDENTAL.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Soon Kim's final appraisal of Miko's deeds as "You have done... adequately. By destroying my Gate, you have ensured it can no longer be used for evil purposes. You have fulfilled your oath to defend this one gate... technically." As Miko considered her deeds to be the carrying-out of a divine higher destiny to save the world, it's pretty obvious this wasn't what she expected... and as they were the result of paranoid delusions and directly led to the Big Bad escaping, it's similarly obvious that Soon is trying to be as nice as possible about it.
    • When Crystal and Haley first met each other, the nicest things they could say about each other were insincere compliments about the other's boots and haircut, respectively. The two have wanted to kill each other literally from the moment they first met.
  • A prison tattooist in Something*Positive has the slogan "Come see Edna! You won't get hepatitis!"
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Sigrun, trying to describe Mikkel's accuracy with a gun as nicely as possible, goes for "not too bad for a blind person."
  • xkcd inverts this neatly with the UNIX 2038 problem.

    Web Original 
  • 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".
  • Gamespot has pros and cons for every game.
    • For Hour of Victory the pro is "Thankfully, no one is forcing you to play this game."
    • For the Deal or No Deal adaptation, the "pro" which also shows up in the cons section, is that " There are voice samples from Howie Mandel"
  • Rotten Tomatoes' critics' consensus for the film Vampires Suck by the Seltzer and Friedberg duo, who are notorious for making unfunny spoof films, reads: "Witlessly broad and utterly devoid of laughs, Vampires Suck represents a slight step forward for the Friedberg-Seltzer team." (Keep in mind, the film's score is a 4%.)
  • Seanbaby parodies this when talking about Superfriends. He praises Lex Luthor for his ability to try to make every member of the Legion of Doom sound cool when he makes a roll call.
    Seanbaby: Sure, it's easy to compliment Bizarro and Sinestro, but what the fuck would you say about Toyman? "The amazing Bizarro! And next to him, the pretty-good-at-ping-pong Toyman! The... talking Grodd! Followed by the... the... followed by SCARECROW!"
  • 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.''
  • Smogon is fond of this, when dealing with Joke Character Pokemon. Particular examples include noting Telepathy Wobbuffet to be "easily the best death fodder in the tier", the reason to use Castform being that it is "the PU Pokemon with the most diverse colors and coolest STAB move", or Luvdisc with Charm becoming "a very sturdy physical wall able to survive two Caterpie Tackles."
  • Muppet fan site ToughPigs reviewed the Rich Little episode of The Muppet Show, and they clearly didn't enjoy the guest star, saying that the episode's best joke is Kermit calling Rich Little a "master impressionist."
  • The Unshaved Mouse refers to child voice actors who did less-than-stellar work as "very nice young ladies/gentlemen doing their best."
    • From one of the "Bats vs. Bolts" reviews:
    But there’s no getting around it, I, Frankenstein is a staggeringly bad film, and leagues worse than Dracula Untold. Cunning and savvy reader that you are, you will notice that is not the same thing as saying that Dracula Untold is good.
  • 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.
  • The Wikipedia page for Gotti claims "Gotti was panned by critics, who lamented the writing, aesthetics, and performances, although its use of makeup received some praise."
  • In this Defector Media article disparaging the 2020 Dallas Cowboys, when asked to say something positive about the team, writer Drew Magary claims that wide receiver "CeeDee Lamb has an adorable name."
  • One article on the AV Club noted that the best thing about the Tiger Electronics R-Zone was that it cost thirty dollars. It went on to name it "a better fashion statement than a gaming console"... before noting that the R-Zone looked incredibly stupid to wear, calling out this trope by name.
  • In Pitchfork's FinalFantasy retrospective, he gives a positive and negative for all the playable characters in the eight entry. As he doesn't much like this game, this trope comes into effect for some of them. For instance, for Zell:
    Positive: Probably the most likable of the six main characters...
    Negative: ...which is really kind of sad.

    Real Life 
  • Abraham Lincoln reportedly asked Congressman Thaddeus Stevens about the honesty of Stevens' 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.)
  • Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birgminham Jail" commends the many white supporters who "languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers"... then, after expressing his disappointment with the white church establishment, he damns select members with faint praise for at least allowing black congregations to worship in their churches on special occasions.
  • Rick Perry, long-time and quite an unpopular governor of Texas (later U.S. Secretary of Energy 2017-2019), became known as "Governor Good-Hair" for this very reason. Due to the myriad of reasons he was disliked, he had no one great negative epithet, but everyone agreed that his hair was his finest point.
  • There's a proverb in German that goes "Nice is the little sister 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'."
    • 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":
    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.
    • 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!"
  • 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 new cars? "J-Just wonderful children in general." When finally cornered and pressed to comment on something besides 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.
  • When he first hit the campaign trail in 2015, Donald Trump's xenophobic statements about Mexican immigrants, in which he criticized them for several crimes committed by the more vicious among their ranks, included the assessment "And some, I assume, are good people."
  • Probably unintentional, but John Gummer said this about Margaret Thatcher after her death:
    "She had beautiful hands and lovely ankles, and she knew precisely how to use both."
  • In a 2014 interview, Aretha Franklin was asked her opinions about several contemporary female pop singers:
    Adele: "Young singer, good singer."
    Alicia Keys: "Young performer, good writer-producer."
    Taylor Swift: "Okay... great gowns, beautiful gowns."
  • In sports, coaches and management praise the "character" and contribution to "dressing room culture" of athletes when they have nothing positive to say about the athletes' contributions to the actual game.
  • A tearjerker example: in 1939, the great New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig had been experiencing periodic weakness and loss of muscle coordination but tried to ignore it. One day during a game, he fielded a routine grounder and flipped the ball to the pitcher covering first base, ending the inning. As Gehrig made it back to the dugout, his teammates showered him with praise, patting him on the back and congratulating him. Realizing how badly he must have been performing if such a routine play earned so much praise, he quit the game. Soon after, he was diagnosed with ALS, a disease now commonly referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It would kill him two years later.
  • A common tactic used by bosses or supervisors when writing a performance review or a reference for a bad employee if they're not allowed to say anything overtly negative is to praise the employee for being "punctual" or "always on time". It's positive enough, but if the main thing they're being praised for is managing to get their butt out of bed and haul themselves to work on time (in other words, the easiest and most minimal basic obligation of any employee), then you're also making it clear they were mediocre at absolute best.
  • This happens when you try to Polish the Turd.
    • Real estate examples: it's not small, it's cozy. It's not old, it's well-maintained. It's not the ugly house in a decent area; it's in a great neighborhood. It's fantastic!, not lacking in specific positive qualities.
    • You might do this to yourself on your resume; any experienced hiring personnel are looking for objective measures of your skills and achievements. If you are calling yourself a hard-working people person, well, everyone is a "hard-working people person."
    • Letters of recommendation can follow similar tactics to the performance review mentioned above.
  • Most comments about the quality of the pizza from the Little Caesars chain will revolve around how cheap it is, or how fast it is. To quote one user on Twitter:
    Little Caesars: It's hot and it's ready!
    Customer: Is it good?
    Little Caesars: It's HOT! And it's READY!
  • Tourists in Japan who can hold basic conversations in Japanese may be complimented with "nihongo jouzu!" (translated: "Your Japanese is good!") The stereotype is that this is a backhanded compliment given only to people with a flawed grasp of the language; the ones who are fully fluent won't be complimented in the same way, and it has an unintended air of condescension to the self-aware. It's sometimes said among people learning Japanese as a second language that you know your Japanese is actually decent when the Japanese stop complimenting it.
  • "It subverted our expectations" has colloquially become a Stealth Insult online, thanks to the rather contentious The Last Jedi and how it, for better or for worse, went out of its way to drop plot points established in the previous film or have character twists for the sake of twists. Basically if you're thoroughly unimpressed by a twist or the direction a work has taken, well at least it subverted your expectations right?
  • This is the idea behind "The Mendoza Line" in baseball. It was named after shortstop Mario Mendoza and his lifetime batting average of .215, where anything below .200 is considered bad. In other words, he was the most famously perfectly mediocre batter in baseball history. Therefore, saying someone is "above the Mendoza Line" is not to say they're a bad hitter, but you're not saying much to their credit either.
  • This sarcastic review of the 2019 film version of Cats on Twitter:
    CATS is undeniably a film. Brimming with a score, cinematography, and performances, it’s a motion picture made by a team of filmmakers that can irrefutably be described as existent. Truly one of the films 2019 has to offer.
  • The comments section for "Tone Deaf" by Eminem is brimming with this. A selection.
  • Phillip III of Spain was a member of the notoriously messed up Hapsburg royal family. The Spanish Hapsburg line was particularly inbred and subject to a host of maladies, and Phillip III's history reads like a laundry list of genetic collapses waiting to happen. The most positive statement made of him is that "his only virtue appeared to reside in a total absence of vice." While he wasn't a drunkard or a glutton or a lech or a tyrant, he was also about as much use in statecraft as the palace's potted plants. Possibly the most telling factor is is his royal title, "The Pious," suggesting that the best his contemporaries could say was that at least he did not blaspheme God in any way (other than by existing as such a pitiable genetic wreckage of a man).
  • Don't Worry Darling seemed to inspire a huge competition among film critics over who could come up with the most lukewarm endorsement of the film.
    "Not a disaster" (Ann Hornaday, Washington Post)
    "Intermittently entertaining" (Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair)
    "Competent" (Bilge Eberi, Vulture)

 
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Alternative Title(s): Damn With Faint Praise, Damning With Faint Praise

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Santa shows annoyance at the new elf song, while Mrs. Claus praises it. That doesn't stop the elf foreman from claiming the tenor section was weak, however.

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