Is the phrase “left-handed compliment” considered offensive against left-handed people? Wikipedia and Wiktionary don't mention it being offensive, but I want to make sure.

I’m aware of “two left feet” to indicate that someone’s a bad dancer, but that’s describing yourself, and you may actually be right-handed, whereas “left-handed compliment” may be describing the speech of someone else who may or may not be right-handed.

I’ve also heard of sinister, but a person using the word could reasonably claim that they didn’t know that it is derived from left-handedness.

  • It's probably politically incorrect, but almost everything is these days, and so many people are ready to take offense at so much that the word offensive is as meaningless to me as fascist (which actually refers to a person who supports a specific political system) and racist (How is it possible to be "racist" against women/Muslims/Brazilians/etc. when they aren't a "race"?) etc. You can us "backhanded" instead of "left-handed" if you're worried about offending lefties. – user21497 Oct 7 '12 at 2:32
  • The term's offensiveness would depend on the level of life-diminising systemic discrimination faced by left-handers in the society in which it's used. In today's Australia, for example, it's not going to raise any eyebrows. In the early 20th Century when social attitudes were different you'd have a different answer. – Joel Roberts Apr 3 '17 at 22:52

I've heard the term backhanded compliment, and, evidently, left-handed compliment is another term for the same thing, though not as widely used, apparently.

I'm a southpaw, and I wouldn't be offended by the term left-handed compliment. I might be offended by the "compliment" itself, depending on how good-naturedly (or not) it was delivered. But the term seems innocuous, and I've never heard of any lefty being offended.


The terms backhanded compliment and left-handed compliment are both used to describe an insult disguised as a compliment. These "compliments" are usually intended to belittle or condescend. So while the term may not be offensive to left-handed people, the insult can be offensive to the recipient.

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    Both "terms" are not insults, but one might be offensive. Both terms denote insults disguised as compliments. I assume that "it" refers to the content of the "compliment" and not the term. That makes the conclusion of this very unclearly expressed answer non sequitur. – user21497 Oct 7 '12 at 3:06
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    I am left-handed. To say that left-handed compliment is an insult is an insult to me. It is like saying that left-handers are evil and conniving. – Blessed Geek Oct 7 '12 at 5:23

The term left-handed compliment depends heavily on the understanding that anything done with the left hand is unexpected (and much more unexpected than should be the result from the one-in-ten ratio of left handed people). So at the very least, it would seem to reflect and reinforce the way in which right-handedness is assumed to be the overwhelming norm. Add to this the fact that a left-handed compliment is usually assumed to be either malicious (sinister?) or a clumsy accident (oh, those fumbling southpaws). Negative associations of left-handedness seem fundamental to the phrase, rather than incidental.

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    I heard 1 in 10 is left-handed. – GEdgar Oct 7 '12 at 15:31
  • Yes, you're right; I should have paid more attention to what I was typing, there. It's still not such a rare phenomenon. – itsbruce Oct 7 '12 at 19:05
  • @itsbruce I've edited this answer to say one in ten – toryan Jul 31 '13 at 14:44

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