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I can't really tell what someone means when he says "you could do worse than [x]." Live example:

If you are just interested in a simple command line processor which uses MSXML 6 then you could do worse than using a simple JScript application.

Does anyone know what, exactly, he is trying to say? What nuance is he trying to convey?

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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

This is an example of litotes, which is stating a positive through a negative. It just means that [X] is not bad, that there are many alternatives that are worse.

In the sentence you link to

If you are just interested in a simple command line processor which uses MSXML 6 then you could do worse than using a simple JScript application.

the person who responded is suggesting that using a simple JScript application is a good choice.

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I'd argue that they are not saying it's a good choice; they're saying it's not a bad choice. –  KitFox Jun 9 '11 at 17:27
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@Kit: That is virtually the definition of litotes. –  Robusto Jun 9 '11 at 17:58
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Reminds me of a Richard Dawkins quote, "You could do worse if you needed a theologian. Although I can't imagine anyone actually needing a theologian." –  The Raven Jun 9 '11 at 18:18
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My favorite term for this sort of left-handed compliment (technically called a litotes, as @Robusto pointed out) is "praising with faint damns", a humorous inversion of the better-known "damn with faint praise" (which is so old that Alexander Pope is said to have stolen it from Wycherley.)

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It's a indirect compliment. You can go check out this link => http://www.english-test.net/forum/ftopic24532.html for more explanations.

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Another example of litotes is the cliché you've seen many times: "x is no small thing!" as in "to move the earth, no matter the lever, is no small thing."

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