Il m’a fait un compliment ambigu.

Il m’a fait un compliment ambigu.

eel mah fay uh kaw-plee-MAH ah-bee-GEW.  Click below to hear this pronounced!  

He paid me a backhanded compliment.

First of all, you don’t pay a compliment in French. Compliments may be currency in the highly-politicized work world, but even there, in French it’s faire un compliment, to make a compliment. And most compliments are nice to hear.

This one, on the other hand, was really a criticism in disguise. Ambigu means ambiguous, so it’s a compliment with a hidden meaning. Some compliments ambigus are not so veiled: That’s good work, for a girl.

In fact, the English word backhanded evokes, subliminally at least, images of a slap in the face (the back of my hand) or a tricky stroke in tennis (his backhand is dangerous).

If a person engages in backhanded actions, the French for that is des actions déloyales (day zack-seeYAW day-lwah-YAHL): disloyal. Even though this word is not used to describe compliments, it captures the sting of a backhanded compliment.

May all the compliments you receive today be straightforward and glowing…and choose your own words carefully!

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