What's the most backhanded compliment you ever received?

Inspired by this thread

About 5 years ago, when I was 45, I still considered myself a pretty decent looking woman. My husband certainly thought so (still does, I think). I weigh the same as I did when I had my first child, I wear high heels and nice clothes, get my hair done, etc. I had a 21 year old male volunteer working with me in my science classroom. He had been working with me on and off for a few years and was constantly bemoaning his inability to find a girlfriend. He dated but he rarely got a third or fourth date with the same girl. Anyway. During one of our regular conversations about the same topic one point, he said to me “Ms. Wonder9, you must have been a beautiful woman once…”

At which point, his lack of a girlfriend became a completely understandable state of affairs. And I felt a peculiar mix of gratitude and dismay.
That’s my story. What’s yours?

I don’t get a lot of backhanded compliments, I’m happy to say. Best one I can think of is going to visit my sister shortly after I got out of Army bootcamp, her opening the door and saying, “Gee, I figured you’d lose more weight.”

I always loved this one. I had completed an assignment in a manner which had impressed my boss more than usual. She gave me one of those looks and said, “You know, if you had one single ounce of ambition in your soul, you’d be a menace to the entire planet.”

A former coworker once told me “You’re really hot for an old lady!”

She then realized what she had said, turned twelve different shades of red, and almost stuttered herself to death trying to apologize or dig out of the hole or rephrase it or something.

I took it as a compliment. She was a very young, very pretty, very insecure barely 19 year old, I was almost 44. She meant it in a good way, but phrased it badly.

I don’t think this counts, but I’ll share it anyway.

I was a fat kid in highschool. One day at lunch, this Heather-type rich bitch white girl who was sitting at my table was talking to her friend about someone whom she described as “really really fat.” After she said this, she turned to me, feigned embarrassment, and said, “Oh my god, no offense!”

Ever since then, I use that all the time: I’ll be talking about someone who’s stupid or whatever, and I’ll turn to someone in the conversation (if it’s someone who’s familiar with my sense of humor) and go, “Oh sorry, no offense!”

The time my beloved Typo Knig tried to tell me I’d been a sobering influence on him (as in, he drank less, unlike his freshman year in college where he was trying to ossify his liver).

The trouble is, he was a bit tipsy at the time. Well, I was too - we’d been at a potluck dinner where there was plenty of wine, and we were on foot so no issues with having to drive safely, so we indulged.

Typo noted that his alcohol tolerance was a lot lower, since he didn’t drink much any more due to spending so much time with me. i.e. it took very little to make him tipsy.

Only, what came out of his mouth was “You know, since I’ve been with you I’ve become a cheap drunk!”.

Being a little sozzled myself, I understood what he meant and didn’t notice the poor phrasing.

Then he said “uh, let me rephrase that!”.

This wasn’t to me – but it’s really funny.

In the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, he discusses his parents’ ambivalence to him becoming a professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon.

‘‘I’d like you to meet our son. He’s a doctor. But not the kind who helps people.’’

It’s quite a good book. He was quite a remarkable man. RIP Randy.

Since I’ve been running, I’ve lost a good amount of weight. (I wasn’t fat, but I’d put on a few pounds over the past couple years.) I’ve gone down a pants size or too. One day my boyfriend looked at me all surprised and said,

“Hey, where’d your wattle go?”

I told him I ate it, which is pretty true.

A Halloween party at home where I’d planned all the food (a buffet) for 40 or so people, then dressed my sexiest-- a witch in a semitransparent dress with appliques in the risque places. One hot guy there turned to me with a smile of wonder on his face and said: Wow, you’re a good cook!

Not sure whether this is a backhanded compliment or a backhanded insult. I had just started seeing a guy, maybe 2-3 weeks earlier. We were in bed, just talking, and totally out of the blue he said to me, “You know, there’s nothing wrong with you that isn’t correctable.”

When a bunch of coworkers and I got laid off, an old alcoholic customer kept in touch and we ended up all going out for Mardi Gras. He had some problems, but was a nice guy and never hurt anybody. So, one of our female co-workers (who is uhhhh…a bit more roundish) ends up winning the “get the most guys’ phone numbers” contest. And he compliments her, “Wow that was great how you beat out all those pretty girls.” :smack: I’m sure he meant well.

I was working on a campaign once and had to do a stop at a college rally. While I was there some kid came up to me and said ‘Damn woman - you must have been da bomb back in the day’. It wasn’t like I didn’t know that I was old enough to be his mother but I wanted to belt him.

Mama Zappa is cleaning out her email, and she sent me this one I sent her just shy of five years ago. Our son Dweezil was 9 years old at the time. He’s autistic - that part is important to the story.


Dweezil was very affectionate when I got home from work last night. He hugged me several times, and even stopped to say “Oh, Dad, one more thing, here’s a kiss!” and he kissed me. Very nice!

A couple of minutes later, he was coming downstairs while I was going up. “Oh, Dad,” he said, “I wanted to tell you something. Because of all your failures, I wanted you to know that all really smart people started out as total failures.”

OOOO-Kay …

Dweezil, are you trying to be encouraging?” I asked in as friendly a voice as I could muster in my suddenly bemused state. I got no reaction. He just repeated himself.

Dweezil,” I asked “What failures are you talking about?” I thought he might mean that I’m no longer a scientist, or something. He said "Well, you have trouble with your cursive writing … " (This is true, my handwriting is beyond terrible.)

“So Dweezil, are you trying to make me feel better?”

He’s a sweet kid. He doesn’t quite know how to show it, but at least he’s trying.

After being 350 pounds, yet still well-dressed and groomed, there ISN’T a backhanded compliment I haven’t received. :smiley:


“It’s so easy to cook that dish, even Viva could do it.”

It’s not that I can’t cook. I just don’t cook very often. There’s a difference.

Oh, Typo Knig, that is priceless.
I have a relatively weak one. I taught summer school one year, and got a rowdy bunch of post-sophmores who had to redo English. Every day, I started with a Quick Write - a question on the board they had to write a 5-7 sentence response to.

One young man had failed the previous year only because he couldn’t be bothered to do any of the work, and near the end of the last week, I was working with kids to get missing assignments turned in. He had something like 20 Quick Writes missing.

“But, Ms. Phouka,” he said, “you could excuse me on those, right?”
“No, I mean, you don’t have to count them, do you?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“But, you have the power to do whatever you want. You’re The Man. You could show mercy on me. You could let me pass. You have that power.”
“You’re right. I do have that power, and I’m using it to require that you do the work.”
“But, you’re powerful, and I think you’re a great teacher, and-”
“Dude!” one of his friends shouted. “That would work if Ms. Phouka was stupid, but she isn’t stupid!”

Um . . . thanks. Hey, at least it did get the kid to shut up and do the bare minimum necessary to pass.

My Christian friend told me that I was the most ethical athiest he’d ever known, and I told him he was the most reasonable Christian I’d ever known. But I don’t think either of us took these to be backhanded, exactly.

I was fat in junior high school until I got into sports. I took to running pretty quickly, because I’d read that was the best way to burn fat, and once I got my wind, it became pretty enjoyable. My goal was to look like Jim Fixx or some other marathon runner, because back then I didn’t realize that when they said “Nothing’s impossible,” they were lying. Still, I got good enough to make the varsity squad on my cross country running teams.

I lost count of the number of times that people would say to me in these words “God, Linty, how can someone as fat as you run so fast?”

The thing was that by then, I was more bulky than fat (I have since gotten fat again.), although I had a little roll. Still, I was hell and gone from the running stereotype. It never really bothered me to hear that, because I know they weren’t trying to get on my case, and it actually made me laugh. Sigh . . . whatever else my life has been, it has not been boring!

“You’re very sensual! That’s surprising – when we first met, I thought you were asexual.”


A friend-by default - a very very tactless girl I grew up with, 5 years younger than me, turned to me in the pub and said:

“When I was younger, I used to think you were the ideal man.”

So far so good. Then…

“Isn’t that ridiculous!”