Anything Left-Handed > Blog Posts > Newsletter articles > November 2011 > Left Handed Compliment

Left Handed Compliment

This is one of those phrases where “left-handed” is used in a negative or abusive way without any real reason. This expression uses left-handed in the sense of “questionable or doubtful,” a usage dating from about 1600 according to dictionary.com. Another explanation is that a left-handed compliment is an insult concealed in an apparent compliment and thus is the reverse of a real compliment, as left is the reverse of right. The left side has long been associated with wrongness and being “sinister”.

Some definitions:

  • A criticism or insult disguised as a compliment, an insult in the guise of an expression of praise
  • A compliment with two meanings, one of which is unflattering to the receiver.
  • Sometimes, a left-handed compliment may be inadvertent. However, the term usually indicates an intent to belittle or condescend Also called backhanded compliment
  • A type of Asteism – Polite irony; a genteel and ingenious manner of deriding another.

Examples:

  • Boy, you're pretty hot… for a fat (or skinny) chick!
  • The senator said that her opponent was quite competent for someone so inexperienced
  • Your son is more handsome than I would have expected
  • That dress is lovely – it does wonders for your figure

If you have any more information about the origin of this term or any good examples of amusing “backhanded” compliments, please post them as comments on this article below.

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Posted in November 2011

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12 comments on “Left Handed Compliment
  1. Colin says:

    I think the origin of “left-handed compliment” is far different. As a compliment, it is a purportedly a “gift” but one given with one’s (historically) dirty(ier) hand – the hand that most people use to clean themselves with after defecation, with or without any form of wiping material. Thus, it is the opposite of a gift-it is an insult when tendered with one’s dirty hand; the same with a handshake; it meant the same thing in that (very long, but most past) era. If you understand this origin, you can understand that this term is a “gentleman’s” way of perfectly describing an indirectly but intentionally delivered insult.

  2. Bubbles says:

    Here’s a good one– On congratulating me via email on my 45th wedding anniversary, my frenemy sister wrote: “You both deserve a medal!!!!” She included a smile emoji.

  3. regina evans says:

    I embrace my lefthandedness, at some point all of us do. I”m 51yrs old now and people still say cruel remarks about the way I have had to adjust in a right handed world. The remarks of how does it feel to be left handed I usually tell them to ware their shoes on the opposite feet for a day. That unconfortablity kind of sum’s some of the sitituation’s us lefties encounter on a daily basic’s. Just keep in mind, whenever someone says I have never met anyone who thinks like you. You can reply, that’s right and you never will again. That is a fact !!!! 🙂 🙂

  4. sofia says:

    This is a little off topic but when i was in elementary school (2nd or 3rd grade it think) my teatcher called me to the blackboard to solve a problem. I was halfway done with it when i heard one of my classmates whisper to another “it creeps me out to see her writing with the left”. I felt like punching her, she changed schools so when i run into her in the street i ignore her. She was a bitch to me i’ll be a bitch to her.
    Thankfully her younger brother ( like 8 years younger than her this was before he was born) turned out to be a lefty so now she gets to be creeped out everyday 😉

  5. Robert says:

    I justjoined today. I am left handed as are my two sisters. My father was left handed as a child in school but they beat it out of him with a big ruler.

    I am not sure about others but I immediately notice if someone is left handed when at a bank or a cashier for example and I tell them that they write with the proper hand. I suppose I could tell them that they write with the right hand, but I don’t.

  6. Helen says:

    Left-handed comment from a girl at work: “You don’t enjoy good health do you?” (Sarcasm -in other words I enjoy bad health!? Meowww!)

  7. Dawn says:

    I have been told many times in my life that “you have such nice handwriting for a left-hander” too. I just wish they could stop at “nice handwriting”.

    Also though this is a straight out insult, I was just in the car with my 16 yr old daughter and two of her friends (all right handed). I heard my daughter tell her friends how it is common at her school for people to say “left” to anyone who does something illogical or plain stupid. I got reactive trying to explain the insult that is to left handers. Her two friends get it but I will have to work a bit more for my own daughter to see how it insults a group of people.

  8. Grace Attard Hedley says:

    Left-handed people are more intelligent and creative. Would the world be governed by left-handers there would be less evil in this world.

  9. Madeleine says:

    I’ve actually had a left-handed back handed comment (I won’t call it a compliment). “You’ve got lovely handwriting, for a left-hander” I suppose they thought that because my hand crosses the page over my writing it would be really messy, they could have just said it looked nice. I’ve seen plenty of right-handed bad handwriting, but I bet no one blames it on which hand they use!

    • Tara says:

      I feel very relieved to not be the only one who has received this comment! My handwriting is not good, at all, so I was surprised when somebody earlier this year said, “Oh, you have good handwriting for being left-handed.” I didn’t know how to respond. I was like, Thanks? It was really weird because with my handwriting being so poor, I had never gotten a ‘compliment’ on it before.

  10. Hayden says:

    One of my favorite left-handed compliments: I can’t say this about most people, but the extra weight looks good on you.

  11. Trish says:

    Most likely this “left-handed compliment” goes along with the notion of the left hand having to do with anything evil or bad.

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