There is a mildly offensive book that’s been floating around bookstores and dorm rooms and lord knows where else called “The Game.” The book chronicles the journey of one reporter in his attempt to become a pickup artist and his entrance into the league of men known as the “seduction community.”
I know, I know, doesn’t it just spell S-E-X?
Through his encounters, investigative journalist Neil Strauss became familiar with the popular pick-up tactic called a “neg,” defined by Urban Dictionary as: “A light insult wrapped in the package of a complement. Used by pick-up artists to gain and maintain the attention of women who possess uncommon beauty.”
I’d prefer to define it as the late night bar-scene equivalent of a high school hallway’s backhanded compliment. However, where these men use it as a tactic, women seem to dole them out subconsciously. (That, or we’re more sensitive; a “friend” saying “cute skirt” may send up our defensive flares more quickly due to Regina George-PTSD.)
While we don’t always intend for our compliments to burn — it is possible to genuinely mean you “look so pretty with makeup on” without also meaning “you look prehistoric and reptilian without it” — the un-beauty of a backhanded compliment is in its ability to concurrently float like a butterfly (“I love that bracelet”) and sting like a bee (“That’s the ugliest effing bracelet I have ever seen)…whether the diss was intended or not.
It’s so you… I could never pull it off.
What we hear: You look like a T-Rex wrapped in periwinkle taffeta, but then again, you normally do, so own it!
You’re SO photogenic.
What we hear: Don’t get too excited by the amount of likes your Instagram upload is generating — you don’t look like that in person.
It’s so nice that you freelance and you can basically make your own schedule!
What we hear: You also make five dollars a week and you and your dog Miley share food rations.
You look so different! In a good way!
What we hear: You look so different. Not in a good way.
You’re so lucky you don’t need to wear a bra.
What we hear: I’d rather double scotch-tape my giant double Ds to my chest than bear your mosquito bites.
Marriage has done you good!
What we hear: Your cakey bronzer’s been replaced by that honeymoon sex glow.
I can’t believe you’re still single.
What we hear: You’re moderately attractive and live above the influence, so WHAT’S REALLY WRONG WITH YOU?
You look so young for your age!
What we hear: You look like a Russian-nesting-doll/child bride.
You’re so much prettier in person.
What we hear: Your photoshop skills SUCK.
Have I received 1 through 10 of these before and am therefore defensively projecting like Shane Oman above the auditorium? Next question please.
So what about you? Have you been negged recently? Surely you’ve never given a backhanded compliment of your own, right? Even accidentally? Tell me! Tell us. It’s more fun than talking about tacos, at least.
— Esther Levy