I want to describe how someone is saying something but hidden behind their words they are blaming the person they are talking to. It's kind of like sarcasm but not quite as strong. With sarcasm the meaning is obvious and it's meant to hurt. With the situation I'm describing it's not really about cutting down the other person and making yourself feel smart, more like blaming them for something that went wrong and feeling sorry at the same time. The speaker isn't really trying to hit the listener with the hidden meaning, but with just a tiny bit of effort the listener can infer the extra meaning in the speaker's words.

If sarcasm doesn't describe this, then what does? What words or phrases can be used?


16 Answers 16


I think "subtext" is what you're after: in this case, a subtext of blame.


People often make insinuating, or suggestive remarks.

From The Free Dictionary:


  1. Provoking gradual doubt or suspicion; suggestive: insinuating remarks.

  2. Artfully contrived to gain favor or confidence; ingratiating.

It could be said at times, depending, that they are engaging in subterfuge.

Again, from The Free Dictionary:


A deceptive stratagem or device: "the paltry subterfuge of an anonymous signature" (Robert Smith Surtees).


I think you might be thinking of (or trying to think of) condescension.


I think the term that best describes it is "doublespeak", which is using words in such a way as to twist their meaning so as to obscure what is actually being said. You can use doublespeak and "weasel words" (words with ambiguous or multiple meanings or connotations, used in a context where many of the meanings may apply) to accomplish exactly what you describe; to blame someone with words that on the surface seem to be intended to comfort.


"A gentle chide" is a phrase that captures the intended meaning.

From M-W Online:

"To voice disapproval to : reproach in a usually mild and constructive manner : scold"

She chided us for arriving late.
“You really should have been here on time,” she chided.
  • 1
    It's a good word, but your example doesn't include the irony I believe the question is asking for. Hmm, but maybe if you wrote: "So glad you could make it!" she chided. I'd give you the +1 ;-)
    – ghoppe
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 20:23
  • 1
    @The Raven - Chide is a verb, not a noun; I think you want the gerund: "a gentle chiding".
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 22:16
  • @MT_Head: Chide is both verb and noun. Please refer to the citation I provided.
    – The Raven
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 2:27
  • @The Raven - I'm not seeing it... could you quote the part that says it's a noun? All I see is "intransitive verb", "transitive verb", and a bunch of synonyms that are... also verbs.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 2:41
  • @MT_Head: Usually, people dispute the verbing of nouns. Is this a case of the nouning of a verb?
    – The Raven
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 3:12

An example of such a statement:

I am sorry you lost control of your car.

While you are sorry, you are placing full blame on the driver. This is ridiculously common in prayer groups with a lot less subtlety:

Lord, please help Jason realize he is a jackass.

As such, the gamut runs from cleverly hidden to extremely overt. Close calls for matching terms:

  • double entendre — a phrase with a double meaning (usually sexual)
  • doublespeak — flipping the meaning or use of a phrase in an attempt to disguise the truth (e.g. a boy named Girl)
  • euphemism — softening a phrase to reduce its emotional or social impact
  • fridge logic or fridge brilliance — typically applied to events in a film or show, the idea that something "hits" you some time after the initial reveal. In this case, fridge logic would be the effect of figuring out the extra meaning.
  • misdirection — drawing attention to something with the intent of keeping the focus away from a different thing
  • indirectness — "avoiding direct mention or exposition of a subject"

The last one gets my personal vote:

He indirectly said it was my fault.

With some indirectness, my boss reminded me I was late.

"Welcome back," my mother said — which was an indirect way to chastise me for leaving in the first place.


In a sense, ironic because the speaker says one thing but means the opposite?

I would describe this as a veiled criticism,
You might also call it an "arch comment":

archly - in an arch manner; with playful slyness or roguishness :


There's a few good ones already, here's another

Surreptitiously insinuate


I agree with many of the other comments.

Many times this takes the form of a "backhanded compliment".

Example: " I don't normally like girls with greasy hair, but somehow you make it work". In this example they are blatantly saying the person has greasy hair, and the pseudo-compliment would be the "but somehow you make it work".

A typical response would be "umm...thanks?"

  • The correct response would be "Move your scooter before I pick it up and throw it in the dumpster". Anyway, I used backhanded compliment and successfully conveyed the requested meaning, so +1.
    – Alex
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 12:25

Irony is probably the term you are looking for. Alanis Morissette, in her song "Isn't It Ironic" grossly misuses the term, as most people often do. Ironic doesn't refer to something that happens contrary to expectations or justice - like, "Isn't it ironic that a man acquitted of capital murder leaves the courthouse and gets hit by a bus?!"

Irony is "the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning."

Inside jokes told subtly, so that outsiders don't even know they are told, creates irony. Likewise, if I say something to you intending you to understand it one way, even though I mean it another way, I am speaking ironically.

Sarcasm usually employs irony and a very nasty sneer. Left without the sneer, you have irony. If your listener isn't subtle, the irony might be lost on him.

  • 1
    +1, though the Alanis Morissette reference is probably unnecessary :) Commented Jun 22, 2011 at 23:10
  • 1
    "Ironic doesn't refer to something that happens contrary to expectations or justice." Depends on what sort of irony you're talking about, unless my memory of high-school English fails me.
    – JAB
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 21:36
  • Hmmm... I don't think so. I'm gonna stand fast on this one, JAB. We speak very loosely of "poetic irony," but only in the same way that we speak of "poetic justice." In reality, when we use these phrases, the words poetic, irony, and justice are all being used somewhat loosely or analogously.
    – Ryan Haber
    Commented Jun 23, 2011 at 23:23
  • 'Irony' is very polysemous, thankfully usually qualified by a classifier ('cosmic irony', 'verbal irony', 'dramatic irony', 'situational irony' ... The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics distinguishes seven, I believe, as the Wikipedia article endorses. Unsupported claims are rarely optimal on ELU. Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 15:35

Two suggestions:

  • passive-aggressive: not reverse-psychology but more of a manner of using the better manners of others to force them to action in an underhanded way.

  • snarky: follows the pattern of sarcasm (intentional insincerity) but with a side of nagging.


elliptical adj
(of a style of speaking or writing) tending to be ambiguous, cryptic, or obscure:

an elliptical prose that is difficult to translate.


Elliptical may refer to prose or utterances that are difficult, complex, careless or muddled, but more relevantly to this question can also refer to deliberate ambiguity, as with reluctant job recommendation letters promoting people with dubious qualifications:

  • "I can assure you that no person would be better for the job." (This hire would be worse than leaving the position unfilled.)
  • "You would indeed be fortunate to get this person to work for you." (Lazy.)

Apophasis is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer brings up a subject by either denying it, or denying that it should be brought up.


Understatement may be used to minimize the impact of a statement.

Definition: It is the act or an instance of understating, or representing in a weak or restrained way that is not borne out by the facts:

Example: The journalist wrote that the earthquake had caused some damage. This turned out to be a massive understatement of the devastation.


catty (adjective): slyly spiteful; example: made several catty comments

Source: Merriam-Webster

Catty is good for describing mean comments couched in feigned niceness.

  • To me catty implies that the claws are out and visible.
    – Deipatrous
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:42

In certain contexts, arch and wry will do. Subtlety, blame, and commiseration are often intermingled in such situations:

"And you really believed that would work?" he asked archly.

or again:

"Well, you certainly did not help yourself there," she said with a wry smile.

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