We have all gotten one. A backhanded compliment: “That dress doesn’t look that bad on you.” Or the foot-in-mouth compliment: “Good job. You got just about all traces of the sweat stains out of that blouse.” Sometimes, we mean to be covertly insulting, but a lot of the time, we are not even aware that we are being obnoxious.

Take my husband (please). I know that he is just barely enthusiastic most of the time. The last time he raised his voice in glee was after four glasses of wine. But in terms of our day-to-day lives, he is in lukewarm mode most of the time.

I have learned to translate his flabby compliments. For instance, when I serve a new recipe that contains rice, chicken, sherry, and a Campbell soup product, I know I am in trouble when the conversation goes something along these lines:

ME “I got this recipe from a web site called ‘2000 Ways to Make Chicken in the Crock Pot.’ What do you think?” (hopeful, smiling)

HIM “It’s nice.” (the eyes never leave the mass of creamy stuff on his plate)

ME “You think it’s bland.”

HIM “Well, yes. But bland in a tasty way.”

The same thing, only much worse, happens when I model my new casual wear that I got on sale.

ME “Look! I got these corduroy jeans for $13.99! What a deal!”

HIM “Uh huh. Great. (he looks up from his laptop at me for a nanosecond)

ME “Great? Ok—what color are they?”

HIM “I would guess brown?”

The pants are gray. Brown is his default color. My eyes (luckily) are brown. He thinks my nail polish is “brown?” The cashmere pashmina in avocado: “Nice brown scarf. Aren’t you going to wear a coat?” Our cats, two of which have stripes: “Hey, the brown one just barfed.” When asked if he thinks the Siamese (just brown around the edges) isn’t just the most adorable thing, he answers, “He’s nice.”

I am going to go on record here, and say that my grandmother was absolutely right.

If you can’t say something really good (and here I mean something that uses colorful adjectives and an action verb, coupled with at least one endearment and minus the word nice), you should just keep your trap shut. But if you choose the silent route, be sure to go to the jewelry store for items made out of 18k gold or platinum at least three times a year.

Damn. Grandma sure knew some shit about faint praise.

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