Damning with faint praise
Damning with faint praise is an English idiom for words that effectively condemn by seeming to offer praise which is too moderate or marginal to be considered praise at all. In other words, this phrase identifies the act of expressing a compliment so feeble that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even implies a kind of condemnation.
History of the term
The concept can be found in the work of the Hellenistic sophist and philosopher, Favorinus (c. 110 AD), who observed that faint and half-hearted praise was more harmful than loud and persistent abuse.
- Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
- And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
- Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
- Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.
- — "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot" by Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
- When needs he must, yet faintly then he praises,
- Somewhat the deed, much more the means he raises:
- So marreth what he makes, and praising most, dispraises.
- — "The Purple Island" by Phineas Fletcher
The idiomatic label or description for criticizing someone or something indirectly by giving a slighting compliment is understood as an essential element of cultural literacy. William Hardcastle Browne of Princeton University declared that "faint praise is disparagement".
The expanded use of expression has come to encompass a variety of contexts, e.g.,
- "Damning his competitor with faint praise, he said a big problem was that many users considered Wikipedia to be 'fine' or 'good enough'."
- Ichikawa, Sanki. (1964). The Kenkyusha Dictionary of Current English Idioms, pp. 153–154.
- Ammer, Christine. (2001). The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, p. 153.
- Walsh, William Shepard. (1908). The International Encyclopedia of Prose and Poetical Quotations from the Literature of the World, p. 586, citing Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae. xi, 3, 1.
- Walsh, William Shepard. (1909). Handy-book of Literary Curiosities, p. 211.
- Pope, Alexander. (1901) The Rape of the Lock: An Essay on Man and Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, p. 97; n.b., see line 201 in "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot."
- Walsh, William Shepard, Handy-book of Literary Curiosities,pp. 211–212; n.b., see Canto vii in "The Purple Island."
- Hirsch, Eric Donald et al. (2002). The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, p. 65.
- Browne, William Hardcastle. (1900). Odd Derivations of Words, Phrases, Slang, Synonyms and Proverbs, p. 265.
- Hutcheon, Stephen. "Watch out Wikipedia, here comes Britannica 2.0," Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales). January 22, 2009.
- Ammer, Christine. (1997). The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 10-ISBN 0-395-72774-X/13-ISBN 978-0-395-72774-4; OCLC 228041670
- Browne, William Hardcastle. (1900). Odd Derivations of Words, Phrases, Slang, Synonyms and Proverbs. Philadelphia: Arnold. OCLC 23900443
- Hirsch, Eric Donald Hirsch, Joseph F. Kett and James S. Trefil. (2002). The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 10-ISBN 0-618-22647-8/13-ISBN 978-0-618-22647-4; 10-ISBN 0-9657664-3-8/13-ISBN 978-0-9657664-3-2; OCLC 50166721
- Ichikawa, Sanki. (1964). The Kenkyusha Dictionary of Current English Idioms. Tokyo: Kenkyusha. OCLC 5056712
- Pope, Alexander and Henry Walcott Boynton. (1901). The Rape of the Lock. An essay on Man and Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co. OCLC 3147633
- Walsh, William Shepard. (1892). Handy-book of Literary Curiosities. Philadelphia: Lippincott.OCLC 247190584
- __________. (1908). The International Encyclopedia of Prose and Poetical Quotations from the Literature of the World. Toronto: C. Clark. OCLC 22391024
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- Alexander Pope. "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," annotated text of the poem