Damn With Faint Praise

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Meaning of Idiom 'To Damn With Faint Praise'

To damn with faint praise means praise someone or something in such an ambiguous or slight way that it amounts to no praise at all or even implies disapproval or condemnation; to indirectly condemn someone or something by being unenthusiastic in praise, so that the compliment becomes more hurtful rather than kind and helpful. 1,2,3,4

See the related idiom backhanded compliment.

Usage

"The author was dismayed when book critics seemed to damn her with faint praise, calling her writing "a fair effort by a new author."

"Mary told her sister her outfit looked very comfortable, thus damning it with faint praise."

"Your apartment is very neat and functional," said Don's date, thus damning his home with faint praise.

Origin

The idea behind this idiom was expressed by the Roman writer Favorinus as far back as A.D. 110 who said that it is more shameful to be feebly praised than to be severely criticized.

Phineas Fletcher (1582-1682) also mentioned the practice: "When needs he must, yet faintly then he praises."

Thus, the practice was already common during Roman times. However, the actual origin of the idiom is a statement by Alexander Pope in 'Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot' (1735):

"Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And without sneering, the rest to sneer." 2,4

Sources
1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
2. Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.
3. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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