Compliments are great. Can’t get enough of them. But not all compliments are created equally. In fact, there are some compliments you’d just be better off avoiding altogether. Not only is it really, really easy for people to take them as insults, they make you sound like kind of an asshole. After all, passive-aggressive sniping is the true national pastime, and so you can never quite tell if someone is actually trying to be nice, or if they deserve a right hook to the jaw. And so, just because we take our role as educators seriously, here are nine compliments that are actually kind of insulting.
What people hear: “You used to be so fat, that I had a hard time looking at you without retching.”
I know it seems like you’re trying to be nice, but it’s never, ever a good idea to say this because it’s a de facto admission that you thought they had a weight problem before. Sometimes, it’s obvious, and well, come on, you can’t really get that upset if someone is happy that you’re not dangerously obese anymore, but a lot of times this is said after someone loses 5 to 10 pounds. It’s best just to let that go unsaid. Also, dudes, I shouldn’t have to tell you this is like the nuclear war of compliments to women: it is a game nobody wins.
What people hear: “You were so scrawny that everyone used to call you ‘The Scarecrow’ behind your back.”
This is similar to “Have you lost weight?” only for skinny dudes. At best, it will just make him feel like you’re patronizing him. At worst, it will make him go home, look in the mirror and sulk because he knows he looks like DJ Qualls. You don’t ever want to make anyone feel like DJ Qualls, do you? I’m pretty sure that’s considered a war crime.
What people hear: “This place is so small that I can watch your TV from the bathroom… and still feel too close.”
“Cozy” is one of those passive-aggressive buzzwords that automatically makes you sound like a dick. You don’t want to come across like a disingenuous real estate agent. Look, they know it’s small, you know it’s small, just do what you do in the bedroom and don’t say anything.
What people hear: “I wouldn’t get caught dead wearing that/doing that, but since you’re a lesser person, here’s a nice pat on the head to make you feel better.”
Yes, people have different senses of style, but that doesn’t mean you need to make the person feel like an outcast who should just be grateful that they aren’t smearing themselves with poop or something. If they seem excited, just tell them they look good. You don’t have to be their busybody fairy godmother and act like you’re auditioning for Bitch Wars on E! (I’m pretty sure that’s a real show.)
What people hear: “That looks terrible, like something a retarded kid made in Home Ec.” or “That tastes terrible, did a raccoon die in your oven?”
This one is easy. Just tell them they look nice, or that whatever they made looks/tastes good. You don’t have to qualify it and make it seem like it’s good just for being homemade. And trust me, no one will take it as a compliment if that’s what you’re truly going for. They’ll just take it as a subtle putdown. They get enough of that from their mother, so just be cool.
What people hear: “You look like a circus clown that escaped from the mental hospital and was mauled by a bear.”
“Unique” is another one of those passive-aggressive buzzwords. Even if you mean it admiringly, it’s really, really hard to believe that it’s meant that way. You’re basically telling people that they look weird, and that you would never, ever be caught looking like them. Be honest, if you really did mean it admiringly, you’d just tell them something like, “You always look so cool,” and not something that makes them feel like they were just pulled out of a carnival freak show.
What people hear: “I’m a racist and/or judgmental piece of garbage, and I have such incredibly low standards when it comes to ‘your kind’ that I’m amazed you can walk upright.”
Unless you’re saying this ironically, there is no way you can say this without sounding either hateful or bitter. Even if this isn’t racial, and you’ve been hurt at some point in the past, telling a dude or a lady that they’re one of the good ones relative to their gender just makes you seem overly damaged and judgmental. This is just so inherently pessimistic that it automatically signals that you’re a huge downer. And that’s the best case scenario! The worst case is that people start picturing you walking around in a white hood.
What people hear: “You normally look like you just climbed out of a garbage can.”
I have no idea how people think this is complimentary. Sure, you’re telling them that they look good right at that moment, but you’re also pretty blatantly telling them that they ordinarily look like shit. Even if you don’t mean it that severely, at best you’re telling them that their pathetic charms don’t even register in your rarefied world. Never make someone feel like it’s a shock that they look good. The only time you should tell someone, “You clean up nicely,” is when you’re tipping the lady who shows up to clean your pigsty once a week, and even then you should probably just do it with the size of the tip, and not with words. Again, just like in the bedroom.
What people hear: “Awww, look at that lil’ guy! Sure, he can never pleasure me, but I just want to dress him up in a nice little sailor suit.”
Never. Ever. Say. This. Unless of course you want to destroy your dude’s confidence, in which case, just sleep with his best friend. Even that wouldn’t mess with his head this much.