Umm... Thanks, I think! by Jenyfer Matthews

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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35 Responses to Umm… Thanks, I think! by Jenyfer Matthews

  1. Deangelo Moerman

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  6. Pamela S Thibodeaux

    Backhanded compliments are usually funny and meant in a good you said, it’s all in how you interpret them!

    Recently I recived one too…a very sweet individual said, “I didn’t recgonize you!”

    My response, “cause I’m dressed and have makeup on, my group sees me like this once a year LOL!”

    You see, I am the President of Bayou Writers Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana and we were having our annual fall conference so of course I was dressed and made up!

    I work in the public but still am a very casual person…like you, coordinated and clean–no makeup– for the same reasons; bothers my eyes and messes up my skin.

    But its fun to dress “up” on occasion.

    Great post!

  7. Sami Lee

    I once had a very nice old lady – my husband’s Grandmother before he was my husband – compliment a dress I was wearing. It was a simple sundress in a bright floral pattern and she said “That material is so pretty – it reminds me of some curtains I once had.”

    What did that make me? The window?

  8. Jenna Leigh

    As young girl and a teen, I got this muttered just loud enough so I could hear, “Tsk! And she has such a pretty face too.” Which, means dang, she’s a big old girl! And I’ll admit, I was, at least until I got on thyroid meds to correct a problem.

    I’ve grown up, and those heifers have grown older. You know how your metabolism slows down when you get older? Well, my mouth sure hasn’t. I ain’t skinny by any means, but what’s important is this.. I’m skinnier than them!

    Revenge is almost as sweet as my fake southern belle smile when I see those women now.”Aw, honey, have you put on a little weight? That’s okay, you still have such a pretty face.”

    Pretty.. mean.

  9. Jenyfer Matthews

    Stacia – There are times I wish I could come up with something like that in real life but most of my zingers stay in the pages of my books.

  10. Stacia Helpman

    Great post, Jenyfer. I have to confess I am very guilty of giving backhanded compliments. Whenever I have something nasty that I really want to say someone but don’t want to come off as being nasty, I use a backhanded compliment.

  11. Amelia

    I sometimes get those compliments you mentioned from co-workers and sometimes other people I don’t know but seen, for example, the gym.

  12. Lindy

    Now that you mention it, I get the 2nd kind a lot, just like the ones you mentioned. I don’t have to dress up for work anymore, so sometimes I get the “Wow, you look so nice today!” thing from well-meaning friends. Of course I like to assume they don’t mean I look like crap normally. I tell myself what they’re really saying is, “Gee, you’re not wearing your flannel pants today. You don’t look as comfy as usual.” Ha!


  13. Billie Jo


    UGH…I would have slapped the man. Isn’t bad enough that you feel bad when you are pregnant but to have a man, who has no idea what is it like, make a comment like that.

    Billie Jo

  14. Jenyfer Matthews

    Michele – LOL! It will all come back to haunt her one day!

  15. Michele R.

    Oh my gosh life wouldn’t be real if people like that didn’t exist! Ha, ha! I have way to many doses of back handed compliments. I used to work at an architectural firm. I worked with the guys, thank god, since I laid out all the casework (furniture) on the project, but the girls in the administrative area were the biggest crows I have ever seen! They gossiped all the time! The one girl who instigated it all had the biggest mouth. She had foot in the mouth syndrome big time!

    Here are some samples, “Your dress is so pretty! Oh, did you get that on sale? I thought I had seen that outfit at the store.” “Did you lose weight? That outfit looks so good on you!” “I like your hair. I thought it looked nice last week also.” “Oh my, look who is coming in the door! That dress looks like a tent on her.”(she whispers to the girls in the next cubicle) to the girls face she says, “Oh I love your dress! It really flatters you!” I had a friend who worked in the administrative area who told me all about what this girl said.

  16. Jenyfer Matthews

    Jenn L – good for you, thinking up a good comeback!

    Shelley – I hear you. Instead I just store all the backhanded compliments and the replies I wish I had made away for my characters!

  17. Shelley Munro

    LOL – we could be twins, Jenyfer. I always wish I could think of a great comeback and stun the person giving the back-handed compliment with my brilliance. Never happens. I always think of the perfect comeback about four hours later. Way too late. My heroines are much quicker than me 😉

  18. Jenn L

    The worst back handed comment I ever got was at a christmas party at my work. One of my coworkers came over to me and said. “Wow Jenn, who knew you had such a hot husband.” I was totally shocked but did manage to say something back to her along the lines that why would that be shocking and she just stood there floundering and finally walked away.

    Grrrr it made me mad, I know since I’ve had out kids that I am heavier than I was but sheesh, I didn’t think I was that ugly.

    Some people really need to think before they speak.


  19. Jenyfer Matthews

    Billie Jo – I remember when I was pregnant with my second child. It was August and I was at our neighborhood swimming pool. A neighbor asked when I was due. I told him October. He shook his head and said “Big baby!”

    I was wearing a red suit so I look like a tomato!

  20. Billie Jo

    Hi ya Jenyfer!

    LOL. I loved your posting. I have had so many off-handed comments that I just usually have a quick come back to put them in their place. LOL.

    I don’t usually give off handed remarks because they can hurt someone, even if it was not meant that way.

    Like you, I am comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt with no make-up. I really don’t like when someone says “Oh my you sure clean up nicely”. grrr.

    The ones I despised the most were when I was pregnant. I mean how can someone say “Oh you look so beautiful being pregnant”. I mean come on, I was fat, miserable and just wanted it to end. LOL.

    Have a great day!

    Billie Jo

  21. Kim

    Oh I get those too without the compliment. LOL those are usually from family. Or when it is turd on Kim day.

  22. Jenyfer Matthews

    Morgan – I only wish I thought fast enough in real life to deliver such comments at the appropriate moments 🙂

  23. Morgan St. John

    Well, some of are lucky enough to get tactless, snidy remarks WITHOUT the compliment. LOL. But, I will admit to being catty a few times myself, compliment included. You know, when someone is really bugging you??? It’s not nice and I know better… Unfortunately, my family sees the worst of me. To most people, I probably seem pretty nice. 😉

  24. Kim

    ROFL… I am normally the quiet one 🙂 I could never give all my secrets away at once

  25. Jenyfer Matthews

    Do tell, Kim!

  26. Kim

    hee me too unless they were intentional. sometimes when I am kidding and sometimes when I am in a snotty mood 🙂 Every now and then, lets face it… I admit it, it is fun to be a bit on the witchy side especially when you are normally a passive person.

  27. Diana Castilleja

    LMAO! I’m using that claim!

  28. Jenyfer Matthews

    I have conveniently blocked out any backhanded compliments that I may have dished out!!!

  29. Diana Castilleja

    Maybe… But I totally blame the fact that I seem to be losing my ability to be charming. I blame age. 😉

  30. Jenyfer Matthews

    You’re right, Diana. And it’s probably just my own perverse mind that always sees the flip side!

  31. Diana Castilleja

    I think 90% of the comments aren’t meant to be backhanded. There’s tone, inflection, body movement, eye contact, all kinds of things that can LEAD you to think it’s not 100% sincere, but I don’t think most people even realize they are saying something that can be taken wrong given five seconds to think about it.

    I did it just this weekend. I blamed the fact that I’m a hermit and don’t talk to anyone anymore. 😀 They bought it. 😉

  32. Jenyfer Matthews

    Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by.

    I was finally forced to give in and get reading glasses last spring. I went to a shop with a friend and when I tried them on she said “Oh! They look great! You look really smart.” Like, what??? I’m not sure I want to know what she thinks I look like the rest of the time, ha ha!

    I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. If there *isn’t* a snotty tone of voice involved, then maybe they have just said things badly.

    I’ll bet you really do have a pretty face, Robin 🙂

  33. Robin Snodgrass

    Backhanded compliments are a real staple for some people – usually women and really catty men. LOL

    As a large woman, I’m very familiar with certain kinds of backhanded compliments… For example: “You have such a pretty face.” (meaning, too bad the rest of you is fat). My grandmother was the worst about using that particular comment. Then there’s the question/compliment: “Oh, have you lost weight?” (when you know for a fact that you’ve NOT lost weight)

    Oh well, that’s life…lol

    Great blog entry Jenyfer.

  34. Diana Castilleja

    *raises hand* guilty of giving them, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it… *gasp* Yeah, I’m slow learner. But I’m with you on the appearance thing. I’m about the same way, why bother y’know? Who’s gonna see me? Not even the post man, that’s who. I live in T-shirts and call my daily wear slum-wear. It doesn’t usually leave the house though.

    Sadly, most of mine were given to my CP and she sat me and down and told me straight, “You’re being an ass”. Oh.. O-kaaay. Penitent I said “sorry”. 😀 We’re good!

    The worst part, is I know where I got it from… *sigh*

  35. Kim

    Yay! You made it! I am so glad you are here. I hear you on the backhanded compliments.. LOL I hear them enough too 🙂

    Have fun today

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