Lately, it seems that I receive more than my share of back-handed compliments. There are two ways in which these can be delivered of course. Sometimes they come as a cutting, subtle insult, e.g: “I l-o-v-e your dress. I gave one just like that away not too long ago” or “Oh! That’s so…c-u-t-e. Did you make it yourself?” You know the insincere tone, right? I am rarely quick-witted enough to use these to my advantage in real life (or even respond to them well!), but I enjoy putting them in the mouths of the characters I write. They are a great way to show a character’s catty side but I particularly enjoy letting my heroines direct them at a “villains” in my stories.
Back-handed compliments can also be delivered as a genuine compliment that has a secondary meaning of which the speaker may or may not be aware. Fortunately most of the ones I myself receive tend to fall in the second category.
For instance, in my day-to-day life I don’t really dress up much. Why bother? I work at home. Generally speaking I sleep as late as possible, roll out of bed, get dressed and then start getting the children ready for school. I hardly need to primp and fuss to put them on the school bus. I do have some minimum standards but they usually relate to being color-coordinated and clean. I tend to wear very casual clothes and rarely bother with makeup because it bothers my eyes.
On occasion when I’m either going to be seeing someone or because I have a little more time at my disposal, I’ll put on a little mascara. Maybe wear a skirt for a change of pace. Nothing extraordinary. Still very casual, still very au natural in the makeup department. But the enthusiastic reaction I get is very amusing.
“Oh! You look so good today!”
“Wow! I’ve never seen you in a skirt! You look wonderful!”
“Are you going somewhere special? You look so nice!”
The flip-side of what they are saying, of course, is that I normally look like hell.
My favorite back-handed compliment was one I received recently. I was at my daughter’s school for a class performance, dressed in my usual attire of denim capri pants and a t-shirt. Afterwards, while we were standing around chatting and having refreshments, one of the other mothers came up to me and said, “Your hair looks gorgeous! I looked at you for a half hour before I recognized you!” I smiled and thanked her because I’m sure she didn’t mean it the way it could have been interpreted, that I looked so good she didn’t think it was actually me (pretty sure anyway!)
It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor or I’d spend a lot of energy being offended. What’s the funniest back-handed compliment you’ve ever given or received? Or am I the only one who seems to collect them with great regularity? (In which case I may have to re-evaluate the spirit in which they are delivered.)
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HERE TO STAY
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