To be damned with faint praise

After our game on Wednesday:
"You had an excellent second half, Alison."
"Hm. Great. Do you know the expression ‘to be damned with faint praise’?"
I do and strongly deny that my compliment was in any way tainted by implied criticism of her performance in the first half (although… I know the rain had made the pitch slippery, but still… only joking, Alison!). Obviously, I wondered how to translate it into French and the closest I could get to is recevoir un compliment à double tranchant (to receive a double-edged compliment). Anyone?

By | 2008-08-15T15:41:36+00:00 August 15th, 2008|Idioms|5 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. MARIA August 15, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Faire des éloges peu flatteurs conviendrait-il ?
    Faire des éloges perfides?

  2. céline August 18, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Oui, merci ! Mais bon, je le répète, ce n’était pas le cas dans cette situation.

  3. LInda Herbertson August 20, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Interesting concept, Céline, and one I have used recently … at least in the form of not mentioning something I did not like (praising a singer’s dress is a good example I found on the web).
    I like “éloge perfide”…
    Another English version is backhanded compliment (insult disguised as praise) – which led me to think of “merde”. I always wondered why French people say “merde” before an exam to wish the candidate luck. Somebody told me it was for actors in the theatre and “merde” meant “we hope a lot of people come to see your play in horse-drawn carriages and therefore that there will be a whole load of dung in the street in front of the theatre”.
    In English we say “break a leg”
    “Meaning: A wish of good luck, do well – a popular wish of luck for theater performers.
    Example: Break a leg in your game today.
    Origin: “Break a leg” is sourced in superstition. It is a wish of good luck, but the words wish just the opposite. It was once common for people to believe in Sprites. Sprites are actually spirits or ghosts that were believed to enjoy wreaking havoc and causing trouble.
    If the Sprites heard you ask for something, they were reputed to try to make the opposite happen. Telling someone to “break a leg” is an attempt to outsmart the Sprites and in fact make something good happen. Sort of a medieval reverse psychology.”
    Interesting angle on the acte manqué…

  4. Charles Butler August 24, 2008 at 11:33 am

    to damn with faint praise
    = 1. (?) Éreinter sous couleur d’éloge
    = 2. (?) Assommer avec des fleurs

  5. céline August 24, 2008 at 11:43 am

    My readers so often put me to shame with their creativity. I love "assommer avec des fleurs". Thanks! And thanks Linda for the "merde" explanation.

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