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Dawn Watson's Just Sayin': The Back-Handed Compliment

Dawn Watson/CNBNews Contributor



If you’re like me, you’ve been the recipient of many compliments that took a while to understand. Often, you’re half-way home before you realize you’ve been insulted.


   For example, when someone tells me I’m ‘filling out’, you can bet he means I’m getting fat. And when a person says, “I’ve always liked that blouse,” I know she’s saying, “That blouse sure is old!”


   But my least favorite and most-often given “compliment” is this:

   “You look good—FOR YOUR AGE”!


   I’m confused. What exactly does that phrase mean? The first part, the ‘look good’ part is fine. I like looking good and I appreciate it when people tell me so. But the last part is definitely a back-handed compliment.


   If I were younger than my sixty-eight years, would that phrase still be appropriate? How would it differ? Maybe it would mean I look my age or older. Or, perhaps the person giving the compliment is guessing my age and I look like I’m probably under a hundred, hence the second part of the statement.


   Men my age like to tell me—after a few beers, of course—that I’m not a bad-looking gal. Does that mean if I was bad-looking they’d remain silent? I’m pretty sure it means I’m not pretty, just ‘not bad-looking’. Now I’ll be worried when they don’t say anything—it’ll mean I’m hideous.


   I remember baking a cake for my grandfather when I was quite young. My grandmother was a champion, blue-ribbon baker so I don’t know what I was thinking when I presented my own version of Nana’s cake to her husband.


   Anyway, he choked down a fork-full and said, “This isn’t bad!” and I never again baked for him, understanding that “Not bad” really meant, “It might have been worse. Glad you didn’t make it out of  dirt from the back yard.”


   It’s hard to tell when folks are being honest. When they say they like something about me, are they going around to other folks and saying, “Who does she think she is, looking like that?” Or maybe they just want me to compliment them in return. If so, I really messed up because looking for a hidden meaning takes up a lot of my time. I don’t multi-task. I can either mentally pick apart your compliment or respond in kind. I can’t do both.


   I’m not clever in person and usually end up just mumbling a quick thank you, or making up a word because I’m embarrassed. When I was ten, the president of my mother’s college told me that my dress was pretty and I responded by saying, “JASS!” awkwardly combining the phrase, “Gee, thanks!” My mom was mortified. She told my brother. He used the word over and over until he was fifty-seven. He only quit because he died.


   I’m going to try not to search for hidden meanings and just appreciate the fact that I’m being noticed. Not everyone has a hidden agenda; some folks are just trying to boost my ego and I should appreciate the effort. So, if you don’t mind, forget that you read this column and say what you will. I’ll try not to pick your words apart later, wondering what you really meant.


   On the other hand, if you tell a woman she looks good, just leave it at that. She’ll thank you for it.



Just Sayin’,

Dawn Watson


   Picture courtesy of Bing, an Internet resource


published | September 16, 2019