A woman applauds / praises
A woman applauds / praises

Damned by faint praise - Explanation

The English Language phrase Damned By Faint Praise is an idiom still in use 300 years after it was first used, as I shall explain, with examples of its British English usage.

Damned by faint praise means to be given such little praise that it is actually a criticism.

"The jacket you have made is wearable." The speaker damns the listener with faint praise. To say that the jacket is wearable is the minimum of positive words, meaning the listener will take this as condemnation of their work.

The Roman sophist Favorinus in the first Century said it is worse "to receive a feeble compliment" than "to receive a severe criticism". This is the same concept as to be damned by faint praise.

In the English Language, the 18th Century English poet Alexander Pope wrote in 1734 "Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer". From this poem is derived the modern English Language expression "to damn with faint praise" or "to damn by faint praise".

Slightly earlier, English poet Phineas Fletcher writes "When needs he must, yet faintly then he praises, Somewhat the deed, much more the means he raises".

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