In this headline – Warne has faint praise for Gilly – what does "faint praise" mean?
Praise is good. Faint praise is not. Something faint is weak (faint-hearted) and difficult to see (faint lines) or hear (a faint voice). Faint praises are weak and unconvincing. It shows that the person who is giving the praises is half-hearted. He's not sincere. He's unwilling to give an unreserved compliment.
Here's a story. It is said that at a funeral ceremony, the presiding priest, who did not know the deceased personally and obviously had done little homework, asked people from the congregation to stand up and sing praises for the dead. After long periods of silence, someone said: "His brother was worse!"
Ah well, that's pretty faint a praise, isn't it, for someone dead.
Sometimes paint praises are so tough on the ear that they sound more like a damning comment than something supportive. Hence the popular term – damn with faint praise.
In damning someone or something with faint praise, one shows that they are very bad by praising them very little. He may appear to be praising, but actually he is condemning them.
For instance an art critic may damn a painter with faint praise by saying, for example, that the picture looks so simple and innocent that any six-year-old can appreciate it – and perhaps draw it themselves.
Here are a few media examples.
1. Faint praise from an impossible captain
Gordon Brown's moral compass has broken down. The needle still moves, but something inside the fine old Calvinist instrument has gone haywire, with the result that the Prime Minister has lost his bearings.
At about the sixth time of asking, the Prime Minister was prevailed upon to say: "Of course I've got confidence in Harriet Harman." He said it twice, but by then it just sounded as if he was damning her with faint praise.
- Telegraph.co.uk, November 29, 2007
2. Rumsfeld's faint praise for Tenet
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, damned the outgoing CIA director with the faintest of praise yesterday after suggesting better intelligence might have thwarted the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Without mentioning George Tenet by name, Mr Rumsfeld - as is often his habit - couched his criticism in the form of a question: "Is it a terrible failure we did not have the intelligence to prevent the September 11 attacks?"
- Independent.co.uk, June 5, 2004
3. Critics damn Madonna film
Critics damned Madonna's first feature film with faint praise on Thursday and suggested her career behind the camera might be as successful as her acting.
"Filth & Wisdom" had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Wednesday and early reviews agreed a poor-to-average movie was saved by its exuberance.
James Christopher of the Times, in a review billed as "exclusive", was among the film's biggest fans, giving it three stars out of five.
"What saves the film is its sheer exuberance, and, of course, the music," he said. "Altmanesque would be stretching the compliment too far, but 'Filth and Wisdom' shows Madonna has real potential as a film director."
- Reuters, February 14, 2008
4. The all-new News at Ten reviewed
City University head of journalism and former ITV news staffer Adrian Monck gives "an old fashioned critique of an old fashioned show", saying that the story balance was too crime heavy and the one thing missing was a sense of humour.
"There's not much not to like here - which isn't to damn with faint praise, but simply to point out that with news viewers the less you can do to drive them away, the more will stay. But like battery chickens, the odd surprise is good for them."
- blogs.pressgazette.co.uk, January 15, 2008