I am wondering if there is an individual term or phrase that describes the occurrence of complimenting one thing by directly putting another thing down.

An example could be if Abe says "I really enjoyed this baseball game because the previous one was so bad."

It's not exactly backhanded, but something else. I'm not actually sure there's a word for it, but I am curious as to if there is. Thanks

  • flattering comparison? "Unflattering comparison" is more common. – stevesliva Jul 17 '15 at 5:02

"Damning with faint praise" can be a way complimenting A by demeaning B, although it doesn't necessarily mean that.

This definition of damning with faint praise describes such usage:

The argument "attacks" a position by complimenting or praising the opponent or the opponent's argument. However, the praise is misdirected or unenthusiastic, suggesting that relevant, enthusiastic praise would be undeserved.

This is the more typical definition of damning with faint praise though:

To attack a person by formally praising him, but for an achievement that shouldn't be praised.

I just found another surprising (to me) example of damning with faint praise, which I think confirms that it may be a way of complimenting A by demeaning B. The source is venerable, and the language is lovely, so I will quote the full stanza, emphasis mine:

Peace to all such! but were there one whose fires
True Genius kindles, and fair fame inspires,
Blest with each talent and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease:
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caus'd himself to rise;
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike;
Alike reserv'd to blame, or to commend,
A tim'rous foe, and a suspicious friend;
Dreading ev'n fools, by flatterers besieg'd,
And so obliging, that he ne'er oblig'd;
Like Cato, give his little Senate laws,
And sit attentive to his own applause;
While Wits and Templers ev'ry sentence raise,
And wonder with a foolish face of praise.
Who but must laugh, if such a man there be?
Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?

--An Epistle to Arbuthnot by Alexander Pope

  • 1
    It is also "damning with faint praise" to say "Gee, you're not nearly as bad a singer as your brother." – Hot Licks Jul 23 '15 at 22:29
  • @HotLicks Good point! I didn't even think of it like that, but you're right. – Ellie Kesselman Jul 24 '15 at 23:28

I believe you are referring to the process of contrasting two objects or events.

put in opposition to show or emphasize differences


By comparing or contrasting the desirability of two objects or events, you emphasize that one is better than the other.


This phrase can perhaps explain the intended effect of superiority of one at the expese of other.


-- meaning greatly superior often with "stand" as in the examples:-

A) John stands head and shoulders above Bob. B) This wine is head and shoulders above that one. C) Alice stands head and shoulders above all the rest of the people we interviewed. D) Your proposal stands head and shoulders above the rest.

So, literally it means one person's head and shoulder are higher than the intended person's head but metaphorically it comes to mean outstanding superiority of someone/something above the other in the class. Compare • Chicago's basketball team may be the oldest, but it is still head and shoulders above the rest of the league.

  • It would be more common to say that one person stands head and shoulders above a group, as in your example, rather than one person being head and shoulders above another. – Ellie Kesselman Jul 24 '15 at 23:27
  • @Ellie Kesselman the references consulted weighs down to comparison with a group. But there are instances of one to one comp – Barid Baran Acharya Jul 25 '15 at 9:51

Perhaps robbing Peter to pay Paul does the trick.

  • 2
    Not really. Maybe damning Peter to praise Paul... – stevesliva Jul 17 '15 at 4:39


To be blunt about something is to not hide any truths, whether embarrassing demeaning, or worse, scandalous.

uncompromisingly forthright.

For instance, my grandmother is very blunt when she tells me,

"you did a good job mowing the yard even though you're always so lazy"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.