Is there a specific term for a statement that uses words such that their precise meaning conveys a subtext contrary to the colloquial meaning?

For example, the joke in Men in Black:

Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training.

where the precise use of the words conveys a sarcastic meaning (ie that the candidates are inept because that's what he's come to expect from government training).

I was going to use "irony" to describe this but then realized this is basically the opposite of irony - the use of words to convey their literal intention, when a nonliteral intention was expected.

  • is sarcasm not the right word?
    – gstats
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 1:40
  • @gstats I'm hoping there is something more specific.
    – Crashworks
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 1:42

1 Answer 1


These are known as backhanded compliments or left-handed compliments or asteisms

From Wikipedia:

Backhanding is slap using the back of the hand as opposed to the palm. A backhanded compliment, also known as a left-handed compliment or asteism, is an insult that is disguised as a compliment. Sometimes, a backhanded compliment may be inadvertent. However, the term usually connotes an intent to belittle or condescend.

And from Wiktionary:

asteism: Polite irony; a genteel and ingenious manner of deriding another.

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