Thursday, 23 April 2015

Weasel Tactics 2: Nonpliments 22.04.15

One of my favourite people ever, and the editor of this blog, happens to be deaf. I am constantly rendered speechless by people falling over themselves to give her nonpliments. No, that's not a typo.

You see, I checked my dictionary, and a compliment is "a polite expression of praise or admiration." Admiration, in turn, is "a feeling of strong approval or delight with regard to someone or something", or "something regarded as impressive or worthy of respect."

"You are really good at editing" is a compliment. Editing is a skill worthy of respect. Recognising that someone excels at it is a perfectly valid cause for admiration. The sentence, as it's formed, is perfectly polite.

"I've always admired your ambition" is a nonpliment. In order for the mere act of "having ambition" to be worthy of admiration, there pretty much has to be something wrong with the person. Given that the person in question is ridiculously intelligent, highly educated, and a bloody good worker, why wouldn't she be ambitious? Why wouldn't she be aiming to put her abundant talents to good use?

I get stuff like that at work all the time. "It's nice to see someone like you running a business" - someone like me? A woman? A foreigner? A small person? From the tone - sickly sweet, condescending, or surprised - I'm guessing they are not referring to my academic achievements.

What the nompliment does is highlight the fact that the giver considers the receiver a below-average person, for whatever reason(s). That is the only reasonable explanation as to why something completely commonplace can be considered extraordinary when that particular person does it. That is why nonpliments, unlike compliments, do not booster the receiver's morale however graciously they may be delivered.

2 comments:

robert clark said...

Here's how I see it. People throw away their lives all the time. They neglect talents. They give up before it even gets hard. Tons and tons of "potentially" exceptional people choose to be mediocre. "Someone like you" could just as easily be a way of saying,"I am so glad that ONE person gets it!" It is a compliment.

God's Bastard said...

It could be a compliment, but it isn't, because of its context and tone. It's a way to throw out an insult wrapped in a pretty little bow, so there can't be any consequences.