What is the word for when someone is overly nice and actually isn't nice at all because of the unnecessary added information/comments? For example, they will say things like "Your hair looks so good that wayyyy omg you should do it that way ALL the time! Looks way better than how you usually do it." And the word I'm looking for is not passive aggressive and it is not sarcasm. There is a word for these types of people. What is it? These people think they're being kind but actually blunt and rude. Another example would be for someone to say "hey you're beautiful, but maybe if you didn't wear harsh makeup you would look better" and they intend to sound like they're being nice when you know they don't like you and are saying in out of spite.

  • Do you mean overly or overtly?
    – John Feltz
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:29
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    Tactless is non-judgemental but accurate. Otherwise, it is passive aggressive (if done to hurt). Nov 14, 2016 at 22:52
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    I'm unclear on the intention of the speaker in your example. Are they trying to be rude, but using "nice" language for the purpose of trying to sound nice? Or are they trying way too hard to be nice? Are they trying to get attention from the "popular crowd" by backhandedly belittling someone? (I have a middle-school daughter, so the possible purposes of the speaker present themselves readily, as we deal with "mean-girl" stuff on a daily basis.) The true motivation of the speaker is important in finding the right word. Nov 15, 2016 at 0:26
  • Thankyou Katherine for asking for a more detailed question. My question is looking for the word to describe someone who's trying too hard to be nice but ends up belittling someone and they also don't realize nor care how rude they're being. Not so much trying to get attention from a popular crowd. Nov 15, 2016 at 1:45
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    Agree with @KatherineLockwood. Your examples describe two quite different situations. Situation 1: "These people think they're being kind but actually blunt and rude." Situation 2: "... they intend to sound like they're being nice when you know they don't like you and are saying in out of spite." Which is it? Nov 15, 2016 at 4:03

11 Answers 11


A backhanded compliment is one that isn't really a compliment at all, as in your example. This doesn't, however, imply anything about the speaker's intent.

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    I interpret "back-handed compliment" as generally implying that the person knew what they were saying, as in they intended the insult. I'd be okay with a clarification like "unwitting backhanded compliment", but by default I'd assume that the speaker knew the implication. Nov 15, 2016 at 0:53
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    How is that a kind of person?
    – tchrist
    Nov 15, 2016 at 5:02
  • @tchrist: The OP sometimes asks about a kind of person, but other times asks about a situation or behavior.
    – LarsH
    Nov 15, 2016 at 12:05

If they really don't mean it they are insincere, and if they say it in a really smarmy, unctuous way they are obsequious.

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    I like the content of this answer, but it needs to be supported with references showing why it is correct.
    – Jim
    Nov 15, 2016 at 2:09

I think you are looking for 'saccharine'. It can be applied to the speaker primarily, but could also be used to describe the words, the sentiment, etc.

sweet or sentimental in a way that does not seem sincere or genuine


An alternative definition (4th) from dictionary.com in particular would match your example.

cloyingly agreeable or ingratiating

  • 'Saccharine' is inappropriate here - saccharine is used when something is over-the-top cutesy or sweet, like baby talk.
    – Merus
    Nov 15, 2016 at 5:10
  • @Merus that could be a usage, but if you check wordsinasentence.com/saccharine-in-a-sentence or sentence.yourdictionary.com/saccharine you'll see that there are uses which are not cutesy or baby talk.
    – Jeutnarg
    Nov 15, 2016 at 5:41
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    good example: "Sometimes when I look at Facebook, I am turned off by a number of saccharine posts that are filled with too many emoticons."
    – Jeutnarg
    Nov 15, 2016 at 5:41
  • While I'd disagree that the example you highlight can't be characterised as over-the-top cutesy, that's not important. What is important is that none of the first set of examples cover the original question, where an insult is incorporated into a compliment. 'Saccharine', as the second set of usages suggests, is about concentrated sweetness; the example from the original question is not as sweet as it appears.
    – Merus
    Nov 15, 2016 at 6:40
  • The edits which made that insult element clearly a part of the question were made after I wrote my answer. I believe that saccharine is still an answer, although it's no longer as strong as it was originally.
    – Jeutnarg
    Nov 15, 2016 at 16:13

In many cases you would say either


not expressing or showing true feelings : not sincere



to adopt an air of condescension toward : treat haughtily or coolly

(quoted materials and links to Merriam-Webster online)


left-handed compliment

A compliment with two meanings, one of which is unflattering to the receiver: “The senator said that her opponent was quite competent for someone so inexperienced; you hear nothing but left-handed compliments in these debates.”

Also, backhanded compliment. An insult in the guise of an expression of praise. For example, She said she liked my hair, but it turned out to be a left-handed compliment when she asked how long I'd been dyeing it. This expression uses left-handed in the sense of “questionable or doubtful,” a usage dating from about 1600.



In British informal English (and to a lesser extent US English as well) you can use smarmy to describe someone who acts that way.

Anyone described as smarmy would be thought to be untrustworthy and, usually, unpleasant. The word carries the suggestion that you would feel like wiping your hand after shaking hands with the person. It's definitely not a positive characteristic.

Although it could be applied to a woman it's much more likely to be applied to a man.


Those people in your examples are perhaps sugarcoating their unsavory comments by preceding them with a nice compliment.


sugarcoat transitive verb
: to talk about or describe (something) in a way that makes it seem more pleasant or acceptable than it is

She has very strong opinions, and she doesn't try to sugarcoat them.

  • Sugarcoating is rather used when you try to pass an idea onto someone, but do not want to say it too brutally, there is no dishonesty. For instance, imagine a coworker who has had the worst haircut, ever. You can't just say "Your hair is a mess". If you wish to convey that message, you'll go with "Oh, I liked your hair before too", or "That's a change, I might need a bit of time to get used to it". That would be sugarcoating.
    – Thalantas
    Nov 15, 2016 at 11:43

A person who behaves in this way is dissembling.

Definition of dissemble from Merriam Webster:

1 : to hide under a false appearance

2 : to put on the appearance of : sɪᴍᴜʟᴀᴛᴇ

Definition of dissemble from Oxford Dictionaries Online:


[ɴᴏ ᴏʙᴊᴇᴄᴛ]

1 Conceal or disguise one's true feelings or beliefs:

‘an honest, sincere person with no need to dissemble’

1.1 [ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴏʙᴊᴇᴄᴛ] Disguise or conceal (a feeling or intention):

‘she smiled, dissembling her true emotion’


How about "nicey nice", e.g. My friends Katy and Emma were there, as well as those nicey nice girls from the Tennis Club.

It's the written equivalent of air quotes.


How about Hypocrite ?

According to the second definition from Dictionary.com, an hypocrite is a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.


One could say of someone that he is obsequious : cf. Merriem Webster online dictionary : "marked by or exhibiting a fawning attentiveness"

According to the same dictionary, one could also say of someone that he is behaving as a toady : "one who flatters in the hope of gaining favors", or that he is a sycophant : "a servile self-seeking flatterer".

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