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"You're a stand-up guy, Bats. Don't ever let them call you a crazed loner."

There are already enough jerkasses in the world, even without tossing in things like Poor Communication Kills. On the other hand, you get the genuinely nice and well-meaning people who honestly want to compliment someone else.

It fails horribly, of course.

There may be a few reasons for this: Suppose Julie wants to compliment Alice, but goes wrong because...

Julie means well, of course. How Alice takes it, however...

Many Tsunderes do not take compliments well. Compare Hair-Trigger Temper, where any and every compliment is a Compliment Backfire. Compare Your Approval Fills Me with Shame, in which the compliment itself is fine, it's the source that's the problem. This is the inverted form of an Insult Backfire.

Examples of Compliment Backfire include:


Anime and Manga

  • Jesse of Pokémon gets a lot of the third one, but it's often a slip-up by James and Meowth. Harley secretly turned heel on May because of the second.
  • In the second Sound Stage of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Nanoha and Fate tell Chrono about how the Lieze Sisters believe that Nanoha should become a Combat Instructor, and he agrees. Chrono then gives his own thoughts on the matter which leads to the following exchange:

 Chrono: Nanoha's combat ability is considerable. Your irresponsible reliance on your magic power complements your basic true character.

Nanoha: Er...

Chrono: You're extremely solid and quick to recover too.

Nanoha: Er... Are you praising me or are you insulting me?

Fate: Oh, he's praising you, really.

  • Akari, a character in the Ranma ½ manga, loves pigs and complimented Ryoga repeatedly by comparing him to a pig. He did not see this as a compliment, in part because he turns into a pig.
    • Akane did this herself to Ryoga once. He was very depressed and using that depression for a special attack, and Akane tried to cheer him up by saying "You're a good friend!" Cue Ryoga, who has unrequited love for Akane, getting even more extremely depressed than he was already! (note the Real Life section below)
    • Nodoka has insulted Ranma before by complimenting him on his cute, girlish looks or his talent at feminine tasks, because she has no idea that "Ranko" is actually her son. While Ranma loves being better than everyone else, he's not too thrilled that it's coming from his mother, the one person whom he needs to consider him manly.

  Nodoka: You'll make a good wife to some lucky man, Ranko!

 Ruby: Look at Ilya-san! Skip logic or the process and only imagine the result! Like that, optimistic thoughts are better than practical ones for being a Magical Girl!

Ilya: Somehow, since a little while ago, you've been saying cruel things!?

Ruby: No no, I was praising you. Having an empty head means you can stuff it with more dreams.

Ilya: Don't just selfishly make people into idiot characters!

  • Naruto, when attempting to encourage Sakura, calls her a "master of brute force." Of course, being Naruto, he meant well, but that didn't stop Sakura from getting mad. And then hitting him.
  • Dramatic version in Gundam Seed Destiny: After destroying the Freedom Gundam, Shinn tells Athrun "I got revenge, for me and for you," and gets punched in the face, prompting a "What the hell is wrong with you?!" Shinn was referring to a battle where the Freedom shredded Athrun's Gundam and badly injured him, but he has no idea that the Freedom's pilot is Athrun's Childhood Friend, whom he apparently just killed.
  • Also Played for Drama in Kodomo No Jikan, Aoki-sensei got told that he wanted by an another school that has joint elementary and middle school. He thinks that it means that the school board didn't trust him, even with everything he had done. Of course, when he realizes his own shortcomings in teaching Kuro and getting information from Houin-sensei that actually, wanted teachers actually had outstanding mark, he started to get it.


Comic Books

  • A Running Gag in Empowered. It seems Thugboy finds Emp's backside one of her most alluring features, while Ms. Powers herself often finds it disgustingly oversized (along with the rest of her). You can see where this is going.
    • One of the only times this compliment didn't backfire was when Ocelotina remarked that Emp's butt "quivers fetchingly" when spanked. When Thugboy confirms this, she is delighted.
  • A Running Gag in Justice League International was that whenever Ice had a Crowning Moment of Awesome someone would say "Way to go, Ice! I don't know why everyone thinks your powers are lame!"
  • In one issue of The Flash, Wally goes to Captain Cold's parole party, mingles with the Rogues, and ends up keeping an errant boomerang from hitting Golden Glider (who went into villainy after the death of her lover, the also-villainous Top).

 Golden Glider: Thanks for saving me. You're not at all like Barry Allen. You're as brave and honest as the Top.

Wally: I... but the Top was...

Gentleman Ghost: I'd take that as a compliment, old thing, and let it go at that.

    • In another issue, he rescues the then-reformed Dr. Alchemy, who enthuses "I don't know why everybody says you're such a jerk!"


Film

  • The captain of the Enterprise-B in Star Trek Generations, to Captain Kirk: "I read about your missions when I was in grade school."
    • And in the 2009 movie Spock is complimented by his elders on overcoming the "disadvantage" of being a Half-Human Hybrid. Spock's response, while unflinchingly calm and polite, is very clear on where they can stick their praises. It is a credit to Quinto's performance in this scene that his "Live Long and Prosper" comes off clearly as "fuck off and die" without any obvious expression of emotion.
      • Without any obvious expression of emotion? He was clearly shaking with the effort of restraining himself from throwing himself across the table and strangling the chairman, for goodness sakes!
        • Hey, he was younger. It still came off as very calm and collected.
  • In Igor, Eva tells Igor he's a good person, but since they live in a country where being evil is celebrated, Igor asks her not to say that.
  • The poor little drunkard mouse calls Professor Rattigan "the world's greatest rat!" at the end of the little musical number. Rattigan feeds him to his cat.

Literature

  • In Unseen Academicals, Mr. Nutt, whose social skills are somewhat lacking, tries to flatter the plump and plain Glenda by describing her as "fecund". Glenda is mortified, but dips down to "embarrassed" after she rushes off to look up the word, and manages to gently explain to Nutt where he went wrong.
    • Another Discworld example is in Jingo, when Vimes finds out that among the D'regs, being trustworthy is apparently an insult.

 Ahmed: I left him (Prince Khufurah) with a woman I trust.

Vimes: Your mother?

Ahmed: Heavens, no! My mother is a D'reg! She would be terribly offended if I trusted her! She would say she had not raised me right!

      • Of course it's an insult. "D'reg" isn't the D'reg name for D'regs; it's a word from a different Klatchian dialect that they gleefully adopted, meaning "enemy". The D'reg word for "enemy" also translates as "target". They love to fight. They're an entire, richly-textured culture of cartoonish cliches.
  • From Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, Ron compliments Luna on her commentary regarding a Quidditch match. The last reason for this kicks in here as Luna thinks Ron's mocking her because everyone else tells her she did a lousy job.


Live Action TV

  • Farscape had Aeryn compliment Zhaan on being "a true warrior" after she almost singlehandedly defeated the episode's Big Bad when she and D'argo failed. Zhaan just looks shocked and quietly leaves. D'argo explains to Aeryn that Zhaan is a priestess and a fervent Actual Pacifist, who had seriously bent her ethics to beat the baddie. Essentially, "You could not have cut her more deeply."
  • The Muppet Show, where newcomer Annabel Sue Pig tells Miss Piggy of her lifelong admiration of her.
  • Frasier and Niles read a new manuscript by a reclusive novelist. They lavish compliments on him, including how brilliant it was to mirror Dante's nine levels of Hell in the nine rooms of a bordello. The author hadn't intended this, realizes he ripped off the entire structure from Dante, and throws the manuscript into the fireplace.
  • In one episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock is a little too honest:

 Spock: My congratulations, Captain. A dazzling display of logic.

Kirk: You didn't think I had it in me, did you?

Spock: No, sir.

  • Similarly to the Farscape example, the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Daughter" has Jenny complimenting the Doctor on his skill as a soldier.
    • Not to mention the episode "Dalek", in which the (supposedly) last surviving pepperpot compliments the Doctor on his ruthlessness, claiming that he would make a good Dalek...
  • A common problem with Simon Tam from Firefly in regards to Kaylee.

 Simon: Plus, every other girl I know is either married, professional, or closely related to me, so you are more or less literally the only girl in the world.

Kaylee: That's a hell of a thing to say.

Simon: I was joking...

Kaylee: No, no, I get it. Back on Osiris you probably had nurses and debutantes crawling all over you. But down here at the bottom of the barrel, there's just me.


    • And then there's this:

 Mal: The management here don't take too kindly to sightseers, [which is] why we're posin' as buyers. There ain't-a one of us looks the part more than the good doctor. I mean, the pretty fits, soft hands, definitely a moneyed individual. All rich and lily-white, pasty all over?

Simon: All right! Fine, I'll go. Just... stop describing me.

      • Though, being Mal, those weren't necessarily intended as compliments.
      • Except for the soft hands (which are arguably professionally useful to a doctor, after all), they certainly weren't compliments.
  • From That 70s Show:

 Kitty: And Jackie, you're such a doll. I don't even mind your bad-handed compliments.

Jackie: Oh, Mrs. Forman, you're my favorite old lady!

  • Star Trek: Voyager. The Emergency Medical Hologram has a tendency to do this, even when he's not trying to be his usual Dr. Jerk self.

 Kes: Neelix and Tom Paris had a physical fight over me.

EMH: How delightful.

Kes: Delightful?

EMH: You should consider it a high compliment. Throughout history, men have fought over the love of a woman. Why, I can quote you autopsy reports from duels as far back as 1538.

Kes: That's not funny.

EMH: It's not meant to be. You've always been interested in autopsies.

  • Spaced has Twist, who constantly makes backhanded insults in the guise of compliments towards her friend Daisy. For example when Daisy appears on the scene of her birthday party at a restaurant with a brand new dress and make-up in an attempt to impress, Twist comments that she looks nice and follows that with "I wish I could dress down like that". This is particularly grating in that everyone else at the table hasn't even noticed the way Daisy looks and the atmosphere is already extremely tense for a multitude of reasons.
  • In an episode of Murder, She Wrote, Jessica is doing a book-signing at a police station and one of the cops comments "My grandmother will be thrilled. She's been reading your books since she was a girl." The fact this can't actually be true (Jess isn't that old, and she only started writing after she retired) is lampshaded by her Friend on the Force, who drily comments "I remember my great-great-grandfather telling me he read your books by candlelight."
  • In Dollhouse: When Topher is talking to Bennett, he says that "I had a crush on you even when I thought you were a dude." Bennett seems mildly creeped out by it, but appreciates it after Topher adds: "This is better."
    • In their first meeting there's also Bennett describing Topher as "very pale skin. Like a pig." and having to clarify that she likes pigs. They're an awkward couple.
  • In Full House, after Rebecca gives birth to twins Nicky and Alex. Joey goes into Cuteness Proximity mode, saying that they look like miniature Elmer Fudds. To this, Becky screams "MY BABIES LOOK LIKE ELMER FUDD!" and breaks into tears.
  • The Andy Griffith Show:

 Goober: You don't sweat much for a fat girl.

 Chandler: What do you say, Monica - if we're both single when we're 30, let's get married?

Monica (angrily): Why wouldn't I be married by 30?

Chandler: ...omigod, this parachute is really a knapsack!

  • A couple examples of this occur in Community episode Basic Genealogy:
    • Pierce compares his ex-step-daughter's appearance to those of the call girls he frequents. It goes over about as well as you'd expect.
    • Britta's comment about the attractiveness of Troy's grandmother ends in her being spanked.
    • In the first episode, when Pierce tells Jeff "You remind me of myself at your age", Jeff's response is "I deserve that."
  • Screech from Saved by the Bell does this twice. The first time he makes this mistake, he tries to compliment his prospective girlfriend's mother with a celebrity... and he compares her with, of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The other mistake involves an episode of The New Class series where Screech attempts to be complimentary to Mr. Belding when introducing him to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

 Screech: This is Mr. Belding, the man who made me what I am today!

Kareem: (Turning to Mr. Belding) Mr. Belding, we need to talk.

  • In an episode of Parks and Recreation, this is April's response to being told that she's a "very nice person."
  • In Scrubs JD means to compliment Julie when he says "you smell like my mom". Naturally this has the opposite effect. Thankfully he saves himself...

 JD: I didn't mean you smell like my mom, I meant you smell like mamum. It's a rare fragrant herb.

Julie: (hugging him) I feel so silly.

JD's Narration: (sniffing her) Ah, Mommy.

  • In True Blood Arlene attempts to comfort Sookie by saying "you really are smarter than people give you credit for".


Music

  • Weird Al's "That's Your Horoscope for Today": "You are the true lord of the dance, no matter what those idiots at works say."


Newspaper Comics

  • In the Redeye comic strip, the incompetent brave tried to butter up his chief with the line, "You don't sweat much for a fat guy." The brave intended it as a compliment. This is a gender-reversal of a real life line Alex Karras originally said to a girl he was dancing with, with the same intention.
  • A Dilbert comic listed one of "The 7 Habits of Highly Defective People" as "use compliments to show your prejudices". The corresponding picture showed the Pointy-Haired Boss telling Alice "Ooh, nice crisp photocopy, Alice. I don't think a man could have done it better!"
  • A Garfield strip shows Jon telling Vet Liz that because animal medicine is a difficult field, she must "have a great mind for a woman." She, offended, responds, "I have a great mind for a MAN." He attempts to flirt by telling her she has "a great body for a man too."
  • Overboard - Nate urges Charley to say something nice to the Captain, seeing as it's his birthday - on such short notice the best Charley can come up with is "Wow - you barely look insane today!"
  • One strip of Out of the Gene Pool has the baseball player Puff Maghee punching out a sports reporter. Another reporter on the scene points out that the term Cinderella Story is a compliment.


Theater

  • The bridesmaid Zorah has a line like this in Ruddigore: "Dame Hannah, you're a nice old person..." Play it right and it always gets a laugh from the audience.
  • Set up and then subverted in Mary, Mary. Bob, at a loss at how to win back Mary, says she doesn't know he believes she's pretty. He never got to tell her that she was as beautiful as "a lovely piece of white porcelain," because he knew what she would say: "White porcelain? You mean like the kitchen sink?" Indeed, in their final reconciliation scene, he gives her that compliment, and her retort is as predicted, except that she catches herself in mid-sentence and goes sweet.
  • Cyrano De Bergerac: Cyrano tricks a poor Bore to invoke this trope (so he can literally kick the Bore's ass) at Act I Scene IV: When asked if his nose is large, the Bore desperately says it’s minute:

 Cyrano: Why then that air Disparaging? -— perchance you think it large?

The Bore (stammering): No, small, quite small—minute!

Cyrano: Minute! What now?

Accuse me of a thing ridiculous!

Small—my nose?

Video Games

  • A lot of a male player's attempts to compliment Nathyrra in Neverwinter Nights Hordes of the Underdark are...ill-received (at best)
  • In one Solatorobo sidequest, when Waffle attempts to complement Alica for looking pretty in a princess dress, she just gets mad at him for comparing her to Princess Theria.

Webcomics

 Kiley: MY IQ IS SMALLER THAN MY BREAST SIZE!

Gary: Uh... don't cry... I'm sure your IQ's much bigger than your breasts!


Western Animation

  • Amy from Futurama does this to Leela a lot. To whit:

 Amy: Those are great shoes!

Leela: Thank you.

Amy: Do they come in women's sizes?

(Leela smashes Amy with the Planet Express Ship stairway ramp)

  • Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers had a poodle actress (dog food commercials, Lassie takeoffs and the like) as a recurring guest star. Every time someone says how much they admire her, they tell her they've been fans for years and years. And years. And years...
    • Come to think of it, how old is Carol Channing?
  • In the Animaniacs Goodfeathers sketches, Pesto ALWAYS takes Squit's compliments as insults. Granted it's obvious and it was a spoof of Goodfellas but still...
    • The compliments weren't what was messed up, it was Pesto that was broken.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko goes on an incredibly awkward date with a girl in Ba Sing Se. He tries to offer her a compliment, but since he sucks at talking to girls...

 Zuko: Uh... you have... quite an appetite for a girl.

Jin: ...Thanks?

    • In another episode, Aang and Katara are stuck in a cave and... this happens.

 Aang: Well, if there was a choice between kissing you and dying...

Katara: (makes an offended grunt}

Aang: What, I'm saying I'd rather kiss you than die, that's a compliment!

  • During one of the video sequels to Disney's Tarzan, Tarzan mentions how much more used to getting around the jungle Jane is. "You act more like an ape every day!" "Well, I never -" (sees his confused expression) "...heard such a sweet sentiment."
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius gets Jez a giant, solid gold statue of herself for her birthday. her reaction? "So you're saying I'm big? Is that it?"
  • In an episode of Snooper and Blabber the duo are disguised as servants protecting the valuable diamond of a matron whose 65th birthday is being celebrated. Snooper gets the cake thrown in his face after quipping to her "You'll never see 60 again
  • Played with in a Beast wars episode in this exchange:
    • Blackarachnia: "What're you looking at?"
      Silverbolt: "That star. Well, planet, actually. Venus. It reminds me of you."
      Blackarachnia: "You mean hot, poisonous, and deadly? Aww, you're sweet."
    • The twist here is while Blackarachnia still took it as a compliment she just didn't take it in the same way Silverbolt meant it to be.

Real Life

  • Mary Whitehouse, patron saint of Moral Guardians in the UK, once praised The Goodies as the sort of decent, wholesome television she'd like to see more of. The boys were horrified, and rapidly produced an episode called "Sex and Violence", featuring Beryl Reid as "Mrs Desiree Carthorse".
  • Under Tony Blair, the UK government drew up a list of celebrities to be encouraged as good role models for children. When actress Emma Thompson found out she was on the list she told the press her immediate reaction was "an overwhelming desire to go out and score a load of cocaine in rebellion."
  • Nikola Tesla was eventually awarded the Edison Award, which is named after his archrival, Thomas Edison.
  • Journalist Johann Hari decided it was definitely time to change his diet and get in shape when the staff of his local Kentucky Fried Chicken gave him a Christmas card and a round of applause for being their best customer.
  • Saddam Hussein decided that the best tribute he could pay to Islam would be to have a copy of the Qur'an written using his blood as ink. To write the Qur'an in blood is actually a major blasphemy in Islam, and pretty quickly every Islamic organisation outside Iraq denounced it.
  • Joan Rivers said in her documentary she hates being told she was a trailblazer for female comics because she's not done working!
  • A blogger once wrote about webcomics as a new artform, which for some reason annoyed Tim Buckley enough to write a huge blog entry about how webcomics are just fun entertainment, not art.
  • "Is any man wiser than Socrates? / No." The rest is, very literally, history.
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