Damning with faint praise

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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.[1] 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.[2]

History of the term[edit]

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.[3]

The explicit phrasing of the modern English idiomic expression was first published by Alexander Pope in his 1734 poem, "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot" in Prologue to the Satires.[4]

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)[5]

According to William Shepard Walsh, "There is a faint anticipation in William Wycherley's 'Double Dealer,' 'and libels everybody with dull praise,' But a closer parallel is in Phineas Fletcher, —"

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[6]


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'."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ichikawa, Sanki. (1964). The Kenkyusha Dictionary of Current English Idioms, pp. 153–154.
  2. ^ Ammer, Christine. (2001). The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, p. 153.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Walsh, William Shepard. (1909). Handy-book of Literary Curiosities, p. 211.
  5. ^ 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."
  6. ^ Walsh, William Shepard, Handy-book of Literary Curiosities,pp. 211–212; n.b., see Canto vii in "The Purple Island."
  7. ^ Hutcheon, Stephen. "Watch out Wikipedia, here comes Britannica 2.0," Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales). January 22, 2009.


External links[edit]