Insult Backfire

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Princess Sally: You are a miserable creep, Robotnik.

Robotnik: Why thank you, princess!

A verbal equivalent of Attack Backfire, this is for when character A comments on a trait of character B's in a way that's intended to sound negative—but instead of being insulted, character B feels flattered.

Usually, this is because character B feels the "insulting" trait is actually a virtue that they have been trying to cultivate. Less commonly, they're The Ditz or have a poor grasp of the word or concept being insulted and take it to be a positive comment. Other times, it's simply a case of character B having the attitude of pretending that it's not an insult, or even turning it back on character A: "Coming from you, I'll take that as a compliment."

A variant is for the character to be insulted, not because they dislike what was said, but because they're obviously so much worse than that.

Occasionally, the insult backfires because A's remarks were insulting on the surface, but B carries them to their logical, ultimately complimentary conclusion. These cases typically only work when the original insult was mild and/or non-malicious to begin with.

Related to Stealth Insult, but different in that an Insult Backfire is accidental and a Stealth Insult is sent over the target's head on purpose. Sometimes, it seems the only sure way to insult someones is to give them a compliment.

Not to be confused with Insult Misfire, where the target obliviously doesn't realize the insult was directed at them. Compare Threat Backfire. Compare and contrast I Take Offense to That Last One, where there are multiple insults, but the character may only object to one of them. See also Blunt Yes, which is often based on a similar theme. Contrast Compliment Backfire. See also Insult Friendly Fire.

Common variations:

See also I Take Offense to That Last One, I Resemble That Remark, Card-Carrying Villain, Tall, Dark and Snarky and It's What I Do. If the insultee adopts the insult as an actual badge of identity, it becomes an Appropriated Appellation. Compare Geeky Turn On, I Would Say If I Could Say, Arson, Murder, and Admiration, and Blunt Yes. Sometimes crosses paths with Misaimed Fandom. The complete opposite of Your Approval Fills Me with Shame.

Examples of Insult Backfire include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Crest of the Stars, Admiral Spoor's chief of staff is rather appalled at her attitude during combat and calls her Lady of Chaos - a title which she immediately adopts.
  • Zelgadis from Slayers is always pleased when someone calls him a heartless magic-using swordsman. He's trying to cultivate the image.
  • In Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, the titular character snaps at Gargoyle by shouting "You're inhuman!!" (literally, in Japanese, "You're not human"). Of course, since he considers himself superior to humanity by virtue of being a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, he thanks her affably for the compliment. The funny thing is, it eventually turns out that he's a human after all.
    • It's doubly ironic that Nadia herself is the one who is literally not human, though she isn't aware of it.
  • A similar but less affable example occurs in Trigun: right after the Big Fall, Vash yells at his brother Knives that he's inhuman / not human. The latter proceeds to beat him up for daring suggest that he might be similar in any way to such inferior beings.
    • The same character presents a similar reaction when Vash calls him a calamity at the end of the first manga. While he is peeved at the fact that Vash is insulting him, he is proud of being a calamity to humans and proceeds to prove it.
    • A variant happens when Vash yells at Legato "From now on, YOU are the hunted!" and the latter answers with a creepy happy smile.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, when Prince Gihren has his father Sovereign Degwin telling him "You're like Adolf Hitler" when they discuss how much of a Nietzsche Wannabe he is, Gihren says he takes that as a compliment.
    • To be fair, it doesn't entirely count as a backfire because Gihren didn't even know who he was.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Lockon is told that Setsuna was once part of the terrorist organization that killed his family in a suicide bombing. When he later holds Setsuna at gunpoint for this, Setsuna goes on his "I am Gundam" rant and Lockon backs off.

Lockon: (lowers his gun) That's so crazy, I don't want to shoot you anymore. You really are an impossible Gundam nut!
Setsuna: (smiles) Thank you. That's a great compliment.

Reggie: You're a nasty, stuck-up snob! And no one here likes you!
Chazz: I'm waiting for the insult.

    • Also from that episode (number 54):

Alexis: (after hearing Crowler's plan) That's the most selfish, egotistical thing I've ever heard.
Crowler: Thank you.
(Jaden, Syrus, and Alexis Sweat Drop)

  • In Princess Princess, when Mitaka learns that his rival in the presidential elections, the glorious Sakamoto-sama who he's been hearing so much about, is a plain-looking, soft-spoken average Joe with no charisma, he publicly insults Sakamoto and speculates that he's merely riding on his older brother's reputation. While everyone else is outraged, Sakamoto is impressed (and possibly turned on) by his honesty.

Sakamoto: "So for me, whether the person has a bad attitude or not, if they're upfront about how they feel it really puts me at ease. Ever since I came here I've never known what it was like to be attacked like that, so it was actually kind of refreshing." (cue blushing and floral background) "It was exciting..."
Shihoudani: "That's just wrong..."

Renji: (after completely destroying the chamber) So... how was it(my tactic)?
Ishida: That's something Kurosaki would have done.
Renji: Don't say that! It's almost an insult.
Ishida: It WAS an insult!

    • Also Ishida to Szayel:

Ishida: "You're a monster!"
Szayel: "I prefer to be called a genius."

    • Unohana to Aizen, if you see Aizen's reply as a Stealth Pun:

Unohana: Captain Aizen...No, I shouldn't refer to you as that anymore. The traitorous criminal, Sousuke Aizen.
Aizen: Domo, Captain Unohana.[1]

Sio: "You're a wicked twisted, shit-faced genius scientist. You'll burn in Hell for your crimes against nature.
Dharman: "You praise me so wonderfully, Lady Sio! I am not worthy of your poetry!"

  • Whenever someone calls Lupin III crazy. "I think you're bats." "Well, that's the first thing...that you've been right about." * Cuts the rope holding himself and Diana to her kidnapper's chopper.
  • In episode four of Baccano!, after Ladd Russo just randomly kills two of his uncle's men for own amusement, the uncle calls him a freak that even homicidal maniacs think is nuts. Ladd refers to this as "ham-handed flattery".
  • In Shin Koihime Musou, Keifa says that all Enjutsu is good for is eating honey and singing, like a cricket. Rather than feel insulted by this, Enjutsu goes on to say that everyone should keep talking about how great she is.
  • Durarara!!:

Girl: You are the worst kind of human being in this world.
Izaya: And isn't that just splendid?

  • In Code Geass Orange-Kun... Jeremiah is given the nickname when he allowed Suzaku to escape thanks to being geassed by Lelouch and almost everyone with the exception of Villeta called him Orange and of course, he took it to be a grave offense. But after he turned to Lelouch side, he gladly accepted the name Orange; in fact, that was his codename given by Lelouch. He then refers to Orange as "the color of my loyalty".
  • Bible Black: Imari gives one to Kitami and backfires twice:

Imari: You're the worst human.
Kitami: I'll take that as a complement.
Imari: You're the Devil!
Kitami: The highest complement!

    • For the context: Kitami is a demon worshipper who made a pact with a powerful incubus. Comparing her to the Devil is like comparing a Christian to Jesus.
  • In Future GPX Cyber Formula, Asuka says to Randoll about his arrogance and him putting down on Cyber Formula, but Randoll, unfazed by this, instead falls in love with her because of that.

Asuka: You might be a genius, but you're the most disgusting person in the world!
Randoll: She speaks so frankly. I like that.

Fate: I'm starting to feel that you're more fitting as a leader of evil nowadays
Negi: I take that as a compliment

  • In an episode of Wandering Son a boy calls the protagonist and their friend "little girls" as an insult. Instead of invoking a negative reaction, all it did was make the protagonist blush and smile.
  • In Sailor Moon, one Monster of the Week uses people's insecurities against them, leading Sailor Mercury to despair and almost making her attack her friends. Sailor Moon, though? Not only does she completely dismiss all the insults the monster hurls at her, no, when the monster says that she's weird, she grins happily and takes it as a praise.

Comics -- Books[edit | hide]

Batman: Filthy degenerate!
Joker: Flattery will get you nowhere.

Joker: Medical Report! Stat!
Doctor: Y-you had a bad accident. You're a very sick man!
Joker: Flattery won't save you!

Batman: You're insane!
Joker: Has it really taken you this long to notice?

    • An early version of this (at least for the Joker), from Batman #321.

Robin: You're out of your mind, Joker!
Joker: Gloriously so! Isn't it wonderful?

    • And an even earlier example in The Joker's Five-Way Revenge (Batman #251). Yeah, the Joker really likes this trope.

Batman: Joker -- you realize you're utterly... hopelessly... insane!
Joker: It's my most charming trait!

Gambol: You're crazy.
Joker: (offended) I'm not... No, I'm not.

Vicky Vale: You're insane...!
Joker: (feigning surprise) I thought I was Pisces.

Adam One: Fuck you, you fascist bastard.
The Future: You say fascist like it's some kind of insult, but people love fascists, man. You ever meet a woman who fantasized about being tied up and raped by a liberal?

    • Probably a paraphrase of P.J. O'Rourke who was once called a Nazi by an offended listener. "I have often been called a Nazi... I don't let it bother me for one simple reason. No one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal."
    • Don't forget Mr. Rictus reply to Wesley calling him a "goatfucker."

"I do not fuck goats, Mr. Gibson. I make love to them."

  • In Enki Bilal's Nikopol-trilogy the titular characters once calls the Egyptian god Horus an inhuman bastard. Horus doesn't take this as compliment per se, but still explains Nikopol that he is inheritly inhuman, that is, far above the pathetic human concerns, like morality.
  • In the British comic book anthology, 2000 AD, Judge Dredd at one point confronted the evil Call-Me-Kenneth, a robot leading all the other machines into a rebellion against the humans. Seeing the horrors of what's in front of him, Dredd proceeded to insulting Kenneth:

Dredd: We had a human like you in the 20th century, his name was Hitler!
Call-Me-Kenneth: Oh yes, I'm a very big fan of Adolf Hitler!

  • From Superman/Batman #4:

Nightwing: Go to hell.
Lex Luthor: I've been. It's overrated.

Jean: What makes you such a bitch, Emma?
Emma: Breeding, darling. Top-class breeding.

  • From the series Anarky the titular character confronts Physical God Darkseid and begins to lecture Darkseid on why everything he does is wrong. Just when he's about to use the E-word Darkseid cuts him off and proudly finishes the "insult" for him.

Darkseid: Evil? Yes. I am.

Morrow: Letting you think you still had half an hour to assemble the troops was just my way of hanging onto a little criminal integrity, my dear. No hard feelings, I hope.
Oracle: You sick freak!
Morrow: One tries one's best.

  • From the Metal Men strip in Wednesday Comics, #5 - Dr. Pretorius, the villain of the strip, has just revealed that he is wearing a bomb vest, and that his motivation for his attack is that Dr. Magnus, creator of the Metal Men, "stole" the grant he felt he deserved by designing the Responsometers that power the Metal Men.

Dr. Pretorius: To hell with the committee! And to hell with you and your damn amusement park attractions!
Mercury: Hey! I Resemble That Remark!


Comics -- Newspaper[edit | hide]

  • Garfield employs this from time to time. One notable variation has Jon flatly saying "I don't think you could get any fatter."- which causes Garfield's eyes to widen as he dashes to the refrigerator. "That wasn't a challenge!"
    • One exchange between Jon and Garfield goes like this:

Jon: "You have many flaws, Garfield."
Garfield: "Thank you!"
Jon: "One of which is thinking that insults are compliments."
Garfield: "You're too kind."

Roy: Okay, Booker. It's time you started rooster training.
Booker: Why?
Roy: Because you need to practice if you want to be like me.
Booker: I'd rather drink pond scum!
Roy: Good! You've got the Obnoxious part down!

Dilbert: That is the most cynical thing I've ever heard in my life!
Dogbert: Thanks. I'm blushing.

    • And:

Dilbert: Dogbert, that is the vainest, most superficial thing I've ever heard!
Dogbert: * Wagging* Thank you.

    • Also, when the PHB hires a man-hating supervisor:

Man-hating supervisor: You're fired for being a man.
Asok: No one has ever called me a man before. This is the happiest day of my life!

  • Sovisa has had a version of this crop up a few times as a running gag between Alexi and Travis. It typically follows a pattern like this:

Travis: [Disparaging comment] (he makes a lot of these)
Alexi: No you're [Same disparaging comment]
Travis: I hate it when that stupid comeback works...


Fan Works[edit | hide]

Ringo: Go fuck yourself!
Grunnel: That seems a strangely pleasant way for me to be chastised. I don't understand why you view sex as a punishment.


Films -- Animated[edit | hide]

Belle: Gaston, you're positively primeval.
Gaston: Well, thank you Belle.

    • Though it's possible Gaston just didn't know the word and assumed it was a compliment.
  • Aladdin features a variant on this; Aladdin calls Jafar a "cowardly snake", which Jafar decides to interpret literally and transforms into a giant snake.
  • Quest for Camelot has this:

Juliana: You're mad!
Sir Ruber: I'm so glad you noticed! I've been working at it for years!

Tai Lung: You can't defeat me! You're just a big, fat panda!
Po: I'm not a big, fat panda. I'm the big, fat panda!

Miguel: You fight like my sister!
Tulio: I've fought your sister, that's a compliment!

Captain Hook: Scummin' brat!
Peter Pan: Thank you, captain!

  • In The Simpsons Movie, after the Simpson family escapes from the dome enclosing Springfield:

EPA Official: I'm afraid we lost them, sir.
Russ Cargill: Damn it! Well, then you find 'em, and you get 'em back in the dome! And to make sure nobody else gets out, I want roving death squads around the perimeter 24-7! I want 10,000 tough guys, and I want 10,000 soft guys to make the tough guys look tougher! And here's how I want them arranged:tough, tough, soft, tough, soft, soft, tough, tough, soft, soft, tough, soft!
EPA Official: (Pause) Sir, I'm afraid you've gone mad with power...
Russ Cargill: Of course I have. You ever tried going mad without power? It's boring. No one listens to you!

Audience: Boo! Boo!
Megamind: Booooo! Yes, I can play along too!

Beans: Go to hell!
Rattlesnake Jake: Where do you think I come from?

Clara: Why, you're cruel and mean.
Mouse King: Your flattery won't stop me.

The Once-Ler: Aw, how nice to see someone undeterred by things like reality.
Ted: Thank you.

Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]

Boris: (holding a gun on Napoleon) You're a tyrant, and a dictator, and you start wars!
Napoleon: Why is he reciting my credits?

  • In Toys, when General Zevo tells Leslie, "You're as big a fool as your father ever was!" Leslie gets a surprised but touched look in his eyes and says, "Really?? You think so?...Thank you!"
  • In Trading Places, corporate bigwig brothers Mortimer and Randolph Duke argue over a meager sum of money, leading to:

Randolph: Mother always said you were greedy.
Mortimer: She meant it as a compliment.

Riley Hale: You're out of your mind.
Vic Deakins: Yeah. Ain't it cool?

  • Wet Hot American Summer: "Douchebags are hygienic products. I take that as a compliment."
  • The Shadow

Lamont Cranston: You are a barbarian.
Shiwan Khan: Thank you. We both are.

Billy: Go to hell!
Winnie: I've been there, thank you. I find it quite lovely.

Leia: (I think you are a nice guy) ...occasionally, maybe, when you don't act as a scoundrel.
Han: Scoundrel? Scoundrel... I like the sound of that.

Dark Helmet: Who is he?
Col. Sandurz: He's an asshole, sir.
Dark Helmet: I know that. What's his name?
Col. Sandurz: That's his name, sir. Asshole, Major Asshole.
Dark Helmet: And his cousin?
Col. Sandurz: He's an Asshole, too, sir. Gunner's mate, 1st class, Philip Asshole.
Dark Helmet: How many Assholes we got on this ship, anyhow?
(All Mooks stand up)
All: YO!
Dark Helmet: I knew it! I'm surrounded by assholes. [Pulls down mask] Keep firing, assholes!

  • Jack Sparrow does this in At World's End when he replies to a declaration of "You're MAD!" by saying "Thank goodness for that, because if I wasn't, this would probably never work."
    • And the classic exchange:

Norrington: You are, without a doubt, the worst pirate I have ever heard of.
Sparrow: But you have heard of me!

  • Rock and Rule (Megalomaniac rock star Mok has coerced Angel into singing for him by torturing her friends/bandmates)

Angel: You're totally crazy!
Mok (with a truly creepy expression and vocal tone): Thank you. Shall we go?

Lavi: You're crazy! You're actually crazy!
Allen: They called Einstein crazy.
Lavi: That's not true; no one ever called Einstein crazy!
Allen: Well, they would have if he'd carried on like this...

Sgt. Howie: It means that you, sir, are a pagan!
Lord Summerisle: A heathen, conceivably, but not - I hope - an unenlightened one.

Taco Bell patron: What would you say if I called you a brutish fossil, symbolic of a decayed era gratefully forgotten?
John Spartan: I don't know... thanks?

Captain Von Trapp: If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you will be the entire trumpet section.
Zeller: You flatter me, Captain.
Von Trapp: Oh, how clumsy of me. I meant to accuse you.

  • In most of the first three American Pie movies:

Stiffler: Motherfucker!
Finch: Yes ... yes, I am!

Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken: Dunlop, you suck cock!
Reg Dunlop: All I can get.

Gabriel: Son of Perdition! Little Horn! Most Unclean!
Lucifer: I do miss the old names.

  • At the end of Funny People, after Ira has brutally deconstructed all of George's personality flaws, George lamely says that Ira isn't funny. Unfortunately, Ira has a comeback for this, too: "You're right, George, I'm not funny. If it means I'm even less like you, fine, I'm not funny."
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Dave asks Blake if he's insane. He responds with a "little bit" sign.
  • Casper

Kat: You guys are disgusting, obnoxious creeps!
Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso: Thank you!

  • A slightly strange case in Hackers:

Dade Murphy/Zero Cool/Crash Override: Blow me!
Eugene Belford/The Plague: (wide smile) Thank you!

  • Several from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle with Boris and Natasha. The best is when they steal an animated map from in front of the camera. The narrator calls them "Cheaters", and they both thank him.
    • This is a carry-over from the original animated series.

Narrator: The lowest of the low, the vilest of the vile!
Boris: Please! You are embarassink me!

  • In the restaurant scene in Big Trouble, the hitman breaks a smoker's finger. The diner then says I hope you realize you just committed assault. The hitman then responds gleefully by saying: I know, I know. You know I remember time was you actually had to hit somebody. Then he pats him on the back.
  • The 1992 film Juice has this:

Q: You're crazy, man.
Bishop: You know what? Last time you said that, I was kinda trippin', right? But now, you're right. I am crazy. And you know what else? I don't give a fuck. I don't give a fuck about you. I don't give a fuck about Steel. I don't give a *fuck* about Raheem, either. I don't give a fuck about myself. Look, I ain't shit. And you less of a man than me, so as soon as I figure you ain't gon be shit, *pow*! So be it. You remember that, motherfucker. 'Cause I'm the one you need to be looking out for... *partner*!

Arthur: Are all men from the future loud-mouthed braggarts?
Ash: Nope. Just me baby... Just me.

  • While it's not realized in the film itself, there is a straight example in the first Spider-Man.

Harry Osborn: [After Flash Thompson and his friend bully Peter Parker] Leave him alone!
Flash Thompson: Or what?
Thompson's Friend: Or his father will fire your father. [both laugh and high-five each other]

    • So essentially, they admit that Harry is financially and socially superior to them, something that bullies tend to value. Rather odd.
      • Their tone was clearly sarcastic, in that they don't believe Harry has that kind of influence over his father.
  • The Hangover has this funny exchange:

Stu: You are literally too stupid to insult.
Alan: Thank you.

Janis: What is that smell?
Cady: Oh, Regina gave me some perfume.
Janis: You smell like a baby prostitute.
Cady: Thanks.

Evan: I don't want people to know that I didn't go to second base with you. Do you know how many girls I've hooked up with because of that?
Olive: Wow. Girls are almost as dumb as boys.
Evan: Oh, yes they are. Cha-ching.

Captain Invincible: Fine talk from a sociopath paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur!
Mr Midnight: Thank you!

Shooter: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast.
Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
Shooter (panicked): ...No!

Brenda: I liked you better fat!
Dr Claw: (after pausing for a moment with a shocked look on his face) "BRING ON THE BROWNIES! WHEEL IN THE WAFFLES! I'M READY TO BINGE!"

  • Near the end of Back to School, Jerk Jock Chas tries to antagonize Jason by telling him "You're gonna be just like your father!" to which Jason replies "God, I hope so - 'cause I love the guy." Also counts as a CMOH.
  • Aliens

Hudson: Hey Vasquez, you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No, have you?

  • In The Prophecy, Lucifer at one point taunts Thomas by saying that he did hide under Thomas' bed when he was a little boy. When Thomas later defies Lucifer during their final confrontation, he ends up getting the last word.

Thomas: I have my soul, and I have my faith. What do you have...angel?
Lucifer: ...Leave the light on, Thomas.

Randy: Libby, you're crazy.
Libby: Certi-fucking-fiably!

Bug: Ever heard of a tune-up? Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee!
Buck: Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee! Ever heard of a ritual killing? Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee!
Bug: [smirk fades] ...I don't get it.
Buck: Gnaw on her face like that in public again, and you'll be one. (Beat) Beh-hee-hee-hee-hee!


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In the Discworld, Mistress Weatherwax regularly tries to become more of a vile old crone, despite her natural good looks.
    • She's surprisingly hygienic in spite of the fact that she doesn't bathe, she "just washes. As and when parts become available."
    • Granny Weatherwax simply does this because she's trying to fit the role. She is a master of psychology ("headology") and knows people expect a stereotypical witch of her. It's simply better all around for her.
    • In Jingo, Lord Rust calls Sir Samuel Vimes "a thief-taker -- nothing more". This is what finally makes Vimes sail for Klatch instead of remaining in Ankh: once a thief-taker, always a thief-taker, and Vetinari's terrier is, after all, supposed to chase things. And Rust's war gets a Vimes in the works.
  • In Good Omens, the horseman of the apocalypse Famine is killing time by running an Expy of the Burger King, and buys a meal to check that it indeed has no nutritional value and throws it away uneaten. Though it doesn't happen, it's mentioned that if anyone who saw that reminded him that children were starving in Africa, he'd be pleased you noticed.
  • In the Empire of Man series, one of the supporting characters is a Satanist. Her (originally Catholic) planet got this way during a religious civil war, in which one side demonized the other as Satanists. The other side accepted and maintained the term, having decided that given the evil of their opponents, Satan must actually be good.
  • Calderon's Life is a Dream:

Clotaldo: Why, this is madness!
Rosaura: Yes it is.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird applies this when Atticus is called a "nigger-lover."
  • In Warrior Cats, Blackstar at one point starts going on and on about how generous ThunderClan was to give up a piece of territory, and how much good use ShadowClan has been getting out of it as a hunting ground, using the concession as an opportunity to mock ThunderClan for weakness. Firestar, who had simply not thought the piece of territory important enough to fight for, responds: "I'm glad to hear that you are getting so much out of a piece of land prey-poor by ThunderClan standards." Blackstar is not amused.
  • In Harry Potter, Hermione reappropriates the Fantastic Slur for wizards of impure blood, declaring herself to be "Mudblood and proud of it!"
    • Her band "Mudbloods with Attitude" sadly never got off the ground, though.
    • In Harry Potter, The new Minister Scrimgeour accused Harry of being "Dumbledore's man through and through". Harry, of course, happily admits it.
    • From Harry Potter, there's the "Weasley is Our King" song. At first it's used by the Slytherins to mock Ron's sub-par quidditch playing, but is later used by the Gryffindors to praise his quidditch playing once he proves himself to be quite good at it. Doubles as a Triumphant Reprise.
  • Invoked in The Lost Library of Cormanthyr, Forgotten Realms novel by Mel Odom:

Zyzll: I don't trust her.
Tweent: She's a drow. Don't trust her. She won't be offended. In fact, she may feel quite honored.

(Frodo's aunt Lobelia:) "You don't belong here; you're no Baggins-you-you're a Brandybuck!"
"Did you hear that Merry? That was an insult, if you like," said Frodo as he shut the door on her.
"It was a compliment," said Merry Brandybuck, "and so, of course, not true."

  • Gerald Tarrant of the Coldfire Trilogy strives hard to be an absolute depraved monster (with good reason). Calling him any variant on 'evil' only tells him its working.
  • The Truax was written as a response to The Lorax by people who thought the message was anti-logging. But the real message of The Lorax was pro-sustainability; or, to put it another way, they responded to the book by rewriting it so that it sucked.
  • In Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness, the hero is showing a distressingly cavalier attitude towards the plague-killed corpse (on a world with no disease and very little death) that he and the heroine have discovered.

Megra: "You are a deviant from the social norm!"
Wakim: "Is that an insult or a diagnosis?"

  • In Lemonade Mouth after the bully delivers the titular insult the main band of True Companions decides it's A Good Name for a Rock Band.
  • In David Eddings' Domes of Fire, Stragen takes the Styric Council to task for not being more proactive in the emerging crisis in Daresia. When one of the Councillors answers by calling him a bastard, he bears it no mind...because he literally is the illegitimate son of a nobleman. He then proceeds to point out he is also a swindler, murderer, and thief (since he is also the head of a thieves' guild): glibly implying that anything they could call him would not be insulting in the least.
  • Invoked in The Fountainhead by Dominique. She writes what looks like savage criticism of Howard Roark, but she intends that Roark get the hidden meaning that his buildings are too good for the city.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

Kevin Black: Now, I don't mean to be rude but you don't seem to grasp the concept of business management.
Red Green: No, we don't and we actually really appreciate the compliment.

McCoy: You are the most cold-blooded person I've ever met.
Spock: Why thank you, Doctor.

    • McCoy has just walked in on Spock playing 3D chess against the computer while Kirk is facing some serious criminal charges. It is revealed that Spock was testing a hypothesis that the computer he was playing against had been tampered with, producing some false evidence framing Kirk. He was correct.
    • In "The Return of the Archons":

Spock: I prefer the concrete, the graspable, the provable.
Kirk: You would make a splendid computer, Mr. Spock.
Spock: That is very kind of you, Captain.

Spock: As you are so fond of pointing out, Doctor, I am half human.
McCoy: Well, it certainly doesn't show.
Spock: Thank you.
McCoy: How do you like that? This guy never changes. I insult him and he takes it as a compliment.

Sam: Mr. Cooper.
Alice: Yes?
Sam: Let me come right to the point. You, sir, are a demented, sick, degenerate, barbaric, naughty... freako.
Alice: Why, thank you.
Sam: (sigh) Freakos, 1 - Civilization, 0.
Alice turns to the camera, then licks his finger and holds it up for the gesture of "one point to me".

  • Used in Doctor Who at various times over the decades. The Master is easily the most frequent offender:
    • In "The Sound of Drums", The Master, upon being accused of insanity, just gives a thumbs up. Example here.
    • In the serial The Time Monster, the Master completely annihilates the Doctor (Jon Pertwee). Companion Jo Grant remarks that it was the most brutal, inhuman, monstrous thing she had ever seen. The Master gives a nod and says "Thank You" as if he were accepting a compliment on his new suit.
    • In "The Five Doctors" The Time Lord President himself informs him "You are one of the most evil and corrupt beings our Time Lord race has ever produced. Your crimes are without number and your villainy without end." The Master just sits there, with the most colossal smirk on his face imaginable.
      • On the other hand, after it turns out the Doctor isn't dead the Master is somewhat lost for words (see God Guise).
    • In The Movie, a hospital receptionist who believes the Master is an ambulance driver named Bruce responds to his odd choice of words by commenting, "Bruce, you are sick." The Master responds, "Thank you."
    • "You speak treason!" "FLUENTLY!"
    • In "The Lazarus Experiment", Tish calls the Doctor a "science geek," and when Martha explains that it means he's "obsessively enthusiastic about it," the Doctor's flattered.
    • In The Ultimate Foe, Mel calls the Master "utterly evil" after learning his plot. His response? What else? "Thank you." Simple, but cute.
      • There's another one in the deleted scenes, when she calls him "despicable".
    • The End of Time:

Wilf: What have you done, you monster?!
The Master: Oh, I'm sorry, are you talking to me? Or to me? Or to me? Or to me? Or to us?

      • Wilf got his own back in part 2. When the Master condescendingly told the Doctor, "Oh, your dad's still kicking up a fuss,"(referring to Wilf) Wilf defiantly replied, "I'd be proud if I was."
    • Another heroic example occurs in "School Reunion". Never has a robot sounded so smug.

Mr. Finch: You bad dog!
K9: Affirmative.

    • In "The Family of Blood", when a Tim Lamiter absorbs some of the Doctor's psyche and runs off to help him:

Hutchinson: Latimer, you filthy coward!
Tim Latimer: Oh, yes, sir! Every time!

Sarah Jane: I should have known. You're as bad as they are.
Slitheen-Blathereen: For that remark, we won't kill you.

      • And in the same episode:

Sarah Jane: Isn't destroying a planet for profit more on the Slitheen side?
Slitheen-Blathereen: How dare you! We're nothing like the Slitheen! We're much, much worse!

Jack: You're evil and shallow.
Karen: Compliments? So early in the day?

May: [after reviewing a Rolls Royce Drophead Coupe] I believe deep in my heart that I look good in it and it suits me... 'cause it's stylish and it's contemporary.
[audience laughs]
Clarkson: [sarcastically] Every time I see you, those are the words that pop into my head: stylish and contemporary.
May: Thank you.

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 used this trope as one of Dr. Forrester and Dr. Erhardt's catchphrases in the first and "zeroth" season, before it petered out later on. Joel would call them mad, or tell them that they were tampering in God's domain, or some such, and they would reply, in unison, "Thank you!"
    • Earth vs. the Spider, largely considered an early years Shout-Out by the fans, shows Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank using this phrase, only to look confused at the occurrence immediately after. (This episode also contained an explicit reference to Dr. Erhardt, who was Put on a Bus between seasons one and two, and a sketch of the 'Bots being given RAM chips as rewards for complimenting the film—a Running Gag that had been long since phased out.)
    • Also has a Real Life example. After Kevin Murphy took over as the voice of Tom Servo, he was sent a massive print-out banner bearing the words "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE!" Kevin found it both highly amusing and incredibly sad that a fan would be so angry at a puppet on a TV show, and he proudly hung the banner in his workspace at Best Brains.
  • Power Rangers: In an early episode, Bulk tells Skull he's driving like a maniac (escaping from a giant Goldar) and Skull thanks him.
  • Power Rangers SPD: Piggy, the bottom-feeder informant-on-the-streets type, finds a winning lottery ticket that lets him pay off all his debts to Arms Dealer Broodwing and open his own bar, much to Broodwing's annoyance.

Broodwing: You may be a millionaire, but you're still the same disgusting, filthy, wretched piece of worthless garbage to me!
Piggy (earnestly): Thank you! It's nice to know money hasn't changed me.

    • Later in the same episode:

Syd: This place is a roach-infested germ farm.
Piggy: Thanks! I've done my best.

  • House had plenty. Such as:

Dr. Wilson: That smugness of yours really is an attractive quality.
Dr. House: Thank you. It was either that or get my hair highlighted. Smugness is easier to maintain.
...
Dr. Wilson: Be yourself: cold, uncaring, distant.
Dr. House: Please, don't put me on a pedestal.

  • In Whose Line Is It Anyway? an exchange like this will happen during one of the games where they have to play as someone; it's usually not an insult, but one time Greg Proops was to play as a "nerdy white guy desperately trying to act street". Greg's response was "Yes, but what's my character?"
    • One golden moment from the "Let's Make a Date" game, where one player invariably plays some kind of ditz when trying to guess what the bachelors are acting like:

Wayne: "Bachelor no. 1?"
Brad: (as a puritan witch hunter) "Yes, harlot?"
Wayne: (beat) "Now how'd you know my middle name?"

    • From a game of "Scenes from a Hat," the scene was "Secret Lives of 'Whose Line' Stars"

Brad Sherwood: (doing a strip-tease) "Hi, I'm Colin Mochrie."
Colin Mochrie: (as the guy watching the strip-tease) "Hi, I'm Brad Sherwood!"

Rimmer: You're totally egocentric, you flee at the first sign of danger, you only look after number one, you're vain, you're selfish, you're narcissistic and you're self-obsessed.
The Cat: You just listed all my best features.

    • And in another episode, after Rimmer double-crosses them:

Lister: "...you're a total scum-sucking, two-faced, weaselly weasel!"
Rimmer: "Ah, my entry in "Who's Who."" [Walks out]

    • Yet another Cat example:

Lister: "You really are gullible."
The Cat: "Thanks!"

Gene Hunt: I think you've forgotten who you're talking to!
Sam Tyler: An overweight, over-the-hill, nicotine-stained, borderline-alcoholic homophobe with a superiority complex and an unhealthy obsession with male bonding?
Gene Hunt: You make that sound like a bad thing.

  • This example from Angel is somewhere between this trope and a Stealth Insult depending on how mean it was meant to be (probably not very given the person speaking). When Harmony Kendall goes to see Lorne for help she gives a rather painful rendition of "Memories" so that he can read her future from the song. Lorne comes to talk to her afterwards and says "I can't help you, my little Cacophony". She's disappointed, then a second later says "Cacophony... that's pretty... what's it mean?"
  • From the Comic Relief skit with Catherine Tate as Lauren and David Tennant as her English teacher.

Mr Logan: You are the most insolent child I've ever had the misfortune to teach.
Lauren: Thank you.

    • Speaking of Tate and Tennant... Well, I could see a similar exchange to that happening in Doctor Who. Both ways.
  • Dr. Ellingham in Doc Martin on multiple occasions responds to insults with a hasty "thank you". It seems he's either being sarcastic or just saying it to shut people up and get the last word.
  • From No Heroics episode "Origin and Tonic":

Alex: You look like a right slag today.
Sarah: Aww, cheers, Alex.

    • Alex has walked in too late to hear that Sarah's dressing slutty on purpose to annoy her parents, who are visiting the pub.
  • Monk episode "Mr. Monk Goes To Vegas":

Natalie: (to Stottlemeyer) He gets hooked on everything. He's the most compulsive person I've ever met!
Monk: Thank you.

    • The opposite happens in 'Mr. Monk And His Biggest Fan':

Natalie: Mr. Monk, you're not flustered - you're flattered! Who wouldn't be? She adores you; she knows everything about you. After all, you're only human.
Monk: There's no need for name-calling.

    • One episode (can't remember the title) had someone pointing out how lonely Monk must be. His response? "Yes, I am, thank you."
  • A milder variation from Numb3rs, when Don Epps confronted his senior supervisor McGowan in order to reinstate Charlie Epps' security clearance.

McGowan: You and your brother have the same way of looking at things, you know that?
Don: (laughs) I haven't heard that but... I'll take it!

Olly Reader: "Malcolm, you're bullying me..."
Malcolm Tucker: "How dare you! How dare you! Don't you ever, ever call me a bully... I'm so much worse than that."

    • ...and after Malcolm wins the job that Nick Hanway wanted, via numerous plans

Nick Hanway: "Fuck you very much, you unscrupulous bastard!"
Malcolm Tucker: "Scruples? What are they? Those low-fat Kettle Chips?"

    • Most insults aimed at Malcolm backfire as he is already fully aware of his bastardry. The tables are turned however when he finds himself in a meeting at the BBC, trying to offend two TV producers with inappropriate comments. One tells him "that's exactly the sort of banter we're looking for!": Unused to such butt-kissing, he responds by looking absolutely terrified.
  • From The Persuasionists episode 4:

Billy: Emma, you are weight obsessed! This is why the other girls call you Skeletor!
Emma: The other girls call me Skeletor?
Billy: Yeah.
Emma: Oh, that is so nice! I do have quite high cheekbones, don't I?

  • Cold Case episode "Ravaged" pretty much had one of these as the reason why the killer, a sleazy Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who took advantage of women, killed the victim, a woman on rock bottom who rejected him:

Sponsor: Lower than you! You're nothing!
Victim: ... And even I won't have you.

  • On several occasions, Simon Cowell has referred to contestants' singing in Idol tryouts as horrific. Not knowing the word, some of them took this as a compliment until they were very quickly corrected.
  • From True Blood:

Bill: I find myself in doubt whether you ever were truly human.
Pam: Thank you.

Joey: I've had my share of bad reviews. I still remember my first good one, though. "Everything else in this production of Our Town was simply terrible. Joey Tribbiani was abysmal."

    • Later on leads to Compliment Backfire when he describes Monica's cooking as "abysmal".
    • Another example in "The One With The Dirty Girl", the titular girl (who is SMOKING hot) agrees to go on a date with 'nerdy' guy Ross, leading to this exchange with ex-girlfriend Rachel:

Rachel: Well maybe she and her friends are just having a contest to see who can bring home the biggest geek.
Ross: Fine by me, hope she wins.

  • On Sonny With a Chance, the annoyed cast of So Random draws a mustache on Chad's picture on the billboard he puts up to help him win Sonny back. While Nico, Tawni, and Grady laugh about how Chad really looks like a fool now, Zora points out, "Isn't that the whole point of this sign?" Her three costars stare at her while, offscreen, Chad yells, "Hey guys! Thanks for making it better!"
  • The Wire examples:
    • Amoral Attorney Maurice Levy attempts to undermine the prosecutions witness, Omar, by reminding everyone what a terrible person he is. It seems to be working really well until Omar points out that they aren't so different. Throwing his insult right back in his face.

Levy: You are amoral. Are you not? You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You stealing from those who themselves are stealing from the lifeblood of this city. You are a parasite who leaches off....
Omar: Just like you.

    • When Herc gets annoyed that all the local hoppers wear their hats backwards, he leans out his window and sarcastically asks a passing kid where he bought his hat, with the bill on the back of the head. The kid doesn't get it, and explains that it's a normal hat, just turned around. Herc is left speechless.
  • In the Japanese drama Shokojo Sera, after purposely spilling soup over Seira and making her clean it on her knees, the Alpha Bitch scathingly remarks how she looks like a mouse. Seira calmly thanks her and replies that she likes mice.
  • Degrassi had a few between Mia and Holly J., the former would say something along the lines of Holly J being evil or the devil, Holly J would smile and say she 'liked the sound of that.'
  • In an episode of Farscape. The villain of the episode is a crazy, amoral Mad Scientist and the hero disgustedly compares him to Mengele. This backfires, as after hearing a bit about Mengele, the villain declares him a visionary.
  • On Pee Wees Playhouse:

Cap'n Carl: Ya know, Pee-Wee, you got a really twisted side to you.
Pee-Wee: Gosh, thanks, Cap'n Carl! Hehheh!!

Andy: You see, when people say "controversy", I hear "attention".
Sophie: Andy, you are shameless.
Andy: Oh, god, you get me so well.

    • An addition one featuring Parker

Goon: You know when I said earlier you had pretty hair? I lied.
Parker: Yeah, well, I lied when I said you didn't. Wait... dammit. ('jumps off bridge to escape')

Child Molester: Go to hell!
Michael Westen: Come with me.
At this point, Michael is wearing a particularly natty black suit and red shirt-and-tie combo, has introduced himself (once) as "Louis", and keeps blowing stuff up with a click of his fingers. The target isn't entirely sure that Michael isn't the Devil.

  • In one episode of Castle, FBI agent (and jealous ex-boyfriend) Sorenson tries to mock Castle's amateur sleuthing skills, by calling him Nancy Drew, but it backfires:

Castle: Is that supposed to be an insult? Because Nancy Drew solved all her cases...

  • Harper Finkle from Wizards of Waverly Place says she's rewired her brain to make any insult come off as a compliment.
    • Then there's T.J. Taylor; an only child and wizard on neutral-bad terms with the Russo Family, he always says "I'll show you [insert whatever the other person just said here]!" The best and worst instances of this are shown in the episode "Art Teacher". Alex did a good deed which resulted in her art teacher losing her job, and the successor is not up to Alex's standards.

Mr. Laritate: Well, if you think you have a better interpretation of what art class should be, why don't you share it with us?
Alex: Right. Everyone, grab your brushes and paint whatever you want. Be creative, spontaneous, passionate.
T.J.: I'll show you passion!

      • After which he begins a paint fight between the two wizards, marking the first time he backs up his words; any other time it was just an empty threat, if a threat at all, which is why it belongs under this page. The end result of the aforementioned fight is all of the deflected paint being splattered on Mr. Laritate, who subsequently praises Alex for her passion and promises to find a new art teacher, and promotes her to Teacher's Deputy. She then walks over to T.J.

Alex: My first job as deputy is this: T.J., why don't you take out your sketchpad and draw yourself a detention slip.
T.J.: (scoffs) I'll show you a detention slip!
Alex: Thank you, it's exactly what I wanted.
T.J.: That backfired.

  • In VR Troopers, JB is battling Spikebot who mentions transforming into a more uncomfortable form and being dressed for the occasion. JB tells him that he's just as ugly either way, Spikebot replies "flattery will get you nowhere". The battle afterwards is brief and anticlimactic (although Spikebot did not die as easily as most bots).
  • Drake and Josh pilot episode:

Josh: You're the worst stepbrother ever!
Drake: Harsh.

  • In an episode of Muppets Tonight, Clifford is headhunted to host The Mario Nuts Show. He calls it "the most disgusting, depraved, irresponsible, and immoral excuse for a television program I've ever seen", and the producers think this means he's accepted the offer.
  • Chef Ramsey in Hells Kitchen insults contestants on a regular basis every time they screw up. One contestant wrote an order on a ticket that looked like a child wrote on it. Ramsey insulted the chef for the screw up and questioned the guy's education by saying "You never went to school!?" and the chef simply responded that he did not go to school. This actually stunned Ramsey and even more so when the chef confessed that he did not get an education because he spent his life working to support his family overseas after he came to the United States. Ramsey begrudgingly apologized and told the chef to keep working.
  • A Variation appears in The West Wing in that President Bartlet practically asks Josh to insult Him like this

Bartlet:"I'm just as big a cotton candy ass as they are,"
Josh:"Yes, Sir."
Bartlet:"You just going to let that hang in the air?"
Josh:"Of course not, sir. You're a much bigger cotton candy ass than they are."
Bartlet:"Damn right."

    • Later in the series,when Matt Santos is referred to as a Liberal by conservatives,He delivers a brilliant response which lets Them know that Liberal is something He is proud to be called.
  • A variation occured in Two and A Half Men. A running joke is that Charlie often goes makes a meowing sound and then making a whipping motion towards Alan when trying to hint that Alan is a pussy. This eventually backfired during a psychotherapy session after Alan was sleepwalking and trying to make a cake, where he does this to Alan and it resulted in the psychiatrist attending the session to schedule a future appointment with Charlie when she mistakenly interpreted the mocking action by Charlie as a means to communicate his fear of Vaginas.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike and Buffy have had sex for the first time, so Spike points out that Nothing Is the Same Anymore.

Buffy: The only thing that's different is that I'm disgusted with myself. That's the power of your charms. Last night was the most perverse, degrading experience of my life.
Spike: (smiling happily) Yeah. Me, too.

  • In The Big Bang Theory, Howard is showing his friends his programmable robot arm. Sheldon makes a smart-aleck retort about the robotic arm. Howard then attempts to retort by programming the robot arm to flip the bird at Sheldon. However, due to either a misprogramming or a glitch, the robot arm instead makes a gesture that was misconstrued by his friends as a peace sign.
  • In The Young Ones, Rick called a man a fascist and got the reply 'Si'. He could have picked a better thing to call Benito Mussolini.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Daft Punk got its name from a review calling it "nothing but some daft punk".
  • After The Yardbirds broke up, Keith Moon told Jimmy Page that his new band was 'going to go down like a lead balloon.' The name of the band alone illustrates how spectacularly that insult failed.
  • Hip hop example: In the song "Second Round K.O.," Canibus included in his disses of LL Cool J, "99% of your fans wear high heels." The intention was to insinuate that LL was not "hard" enough to appeal to men, but the impact is considerably weakened by the fact that the name "LL Cool J" stands for "Ladies Love Cool James." LL Cool J responded in the song "The Ripper Strikes Back" with the following lyric: "Ask Canibus, he ain't understandin' this/'Cause ninety-nine percent of his fans don't exist."
  • A musical at Six Flags called "Love at First Fright" featuring an evil sorceress who wanted to hero's brain for her creation. At one point all the protagonists chorus, "WITCH!!" This is followed by a long beat, after which she gleefully replies, "Guilty!"
  • Savage by Helloween:

They just call us savage
That's what I like to be

  • A lot of critics—including John Lennon, his former writing partner—were fond of sneering that all Paul McCartney ever wrote were 'silly love songs'. In response, he wrote 'Silly Love Songs', which acts as a cheerful affirmation of this:

Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know
'Cos here I go
Again!

Call me a psycho schizo freak...
and I'll call you by your name!


New Media[edit | hide]

  • Regular commenters on the Web site Jezebel sometimes call themselves and other members "lesbian shitasses" in response to a slur hurled at them by former actor Scott Baio's wife, who called them (and probably feminists in general) that via Twitter in a rather childish attempt to insult them.


Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • WCW was partially undone by what may be the ultimate Insult Backfire. It was their habit during the Monday Night Wars on Nitro, to reveal the results of WWE matches on air, to prevent people from changing the channel to watch WWE Raw. In 1999, they revealed that Mick Foley would win the championship, with an announcer sarcastically claiming "That's gonna put butts in the seats". It did; many viewers switched channels to see it. This compounded the damage done by the Finger-Poke of Doom, which occured the same night. WCW never recovered.
    • Not to mention the signs in arenas for years which said, "Mick Foley put my ass in this seat".
  • In a pre-Wrestlemania interview with Rey Mysterio, Jr., Kurt Angle, and Randy Orton, Orton does this twice:

Angle: You're nothing but a smug son of a bitch!
Orton: (grins) Why, thank you Kurt!

  • At The Rock's birthday celebration on 5/2/11, Vickie Guerrero attempted to ruin Rock's party by bringing in...Mae Young. This backfired spectacularly, as Rock was positively delighted to see Mae. And even kissed her.
  • Natalya told Lay Cool that their IQ was lower than their combined non-existent waist size. The girls took this as a compliment on how skinny they were.
  • On WWE Tough Enough, contestant AJ was nicknamed "tumbleweed" by the trainers. He embraced the nickname and his fans now call themselves "Team Tumbleweed".
  • Done rather believably by John Cena in response to CM Punk comparing him to the New York Yankees by saying he'd become a dynasty and combined with CM Punk making fun of Cena for his Broken Base. Cena replies to this by pointing out that the "Let's go Cena!/Cena Sucks!" chants mean that people are involved in his matches, which, as an entertainer, is his job. He also thanks Punk for the New York Yankees insult because, after giving it some thought, he realized Punk's comment was correct in that the Yankees get a very simular reaction that he does, which means that they're likewise doing their job. Cena's character has always embraced his Broken Base; Punk really should've known better than to call Cena out on that.
  • Shane Douglas of ECW used to yell "WOO!" to mock Ric Flair. Everyone who copies Douglas now does it as appreciation for Flair.


Radio[edit | hide]

Seagoon: You are a coward.
Bloodnock: Seagoon, you surprise me.
Seagoon: Why?
Bloodnock: I didn't know you knew.

    • And:

Greenslade: Mr. Eccles, we are not doubting your sincerity for one moment. It's just your intelligence that's in question.
Eccles: Oh... well, I accept your apology.

Connie: Why don't you live in a style more befitting your financial status?
Whit: You're beginning to sound like Eugene.
Connie: There's no reason to get insulting.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

"You say that I am two-faced? Enough with the flattery. We have business to conduct.

  • In Legend of the Five Rings, the Scorpion Clan's motto is "I can swim", from their telling of the fable of the Scorpion.
  • Dungeons & Dragons "drow" is said to be a corrupted/contracted form of old elven "dhaeraow", meaning literally "black heart" and figuratively "traitor".
    • Forgotten Realms has Khôltar, where dwarves trying to insult the human metalworking settlement nicknamed it "the Place of Pourers and Filers"—inhabitant didn't see this as an insult and ran with it.


Theater[edit | hide]

Leonato: Neighbours, you are tedious.
Dogberry: It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor duke's officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all of your worship.

  • The Running Gag of Shakespeare's Falstaff was the fact he was a drunken, bawdy, cowardly, charismatic, corpulent thief/scoundrel/adventurer, and loved being one out loud.
  • An indirect example: In Molière's play The Miser, title character Harpagon wants his daughter, Elise to marry a much older man, because he'd take her without dowry. When Harpagon's steward, Valére, who's secrety in love with Elise, hears this, he comments: "When a man offers to marry a girl without a dowry, we ought to look no farther. Everything is comprised in that, and "without dowry" compensates for want of beauty, youth, birth, honour, wisdom, and probity." Harpagon takes it completely seriously.
  • Cyrano De Bergerac.- At Act I Scene IV, Viscount De Valvert calls Cyrano Impoverished Patrician and poet. Given the Culture Clash between the french and the Gascon’s mindset, Cyrano doesn’t mind at all:

Cyrano: Ay, poet, Sir! In proof of which,
While we fence, presto! all extempore
I will compose a ballade.

  • Peter in the musical Babes in Arms does this when he's called a "communist." In fact, he is a communist.

Peter: Thank you for the compliment. Property is theft. We should place everything we have in a communal fund.


Toys[edit | hide]

  • In Bionicle, Vezon misinterprets a comment that he could "die horribly without being missed" as a compliment.


Video Games[edit | hide]

Sora: Lowlife!
Hades: Eh, you're too kind, kid.

Sheena: I can't believe you! You were always a pervert, but I never doubted that you were a good person when it came down to it.
Zelos: Why, thank you, my sweet, voluptuous hunny.

    • Which seems to imply he's thanking her for calling him a good liar.
  • There's a longer version of an Insult Backfire in Neverwinter Nights 2 when the player first enters the Sunken Flagon after recruiting Qara (a red-haired sorcerer with a short temper and a penchant for fire spells).

Khelgar Ironfist: By my reckoning, the Flagon's never had a finer table-cleaning goblin-wench.
Qara: What, since your mother lost her job?
Khelgar: Eh? Now don't be bringing my mother into this! You'd best be careful, you simpering little father's girl, or you'll learn a thing or two about Ironfist honour and manhood!
Qara: Oh, you mean the two smallest things in all of Faerûn? From what I hear, no woman could learn about Ironfist manhood from you, Khelgar.
Khelgar: Wh-what?! I'll have you know plenty of women know about Ironfist manhood! Plenty! They just all live up... around Waterdeep... or they'd tell you!

  • Monkey Island lives this trope in its iconic insult swordfighting, although it's not as much agreeing with the insult as putting a spin on it and coming up with a riposte that literally makes it backfire at the person who made the insult.

You fight like a dairy farmer!
How appropriate, You Fight Like a Cow!

    • And:

There are no words for how disgusting you are.
Yes there are. You just never learned them.

    • And

Have you stopped wearing diapers yet?
Why, did you want to borrow one?

      • Inspired Kingdom of Loathing's 'Insult Pong'. The player has to match insults against Old Don Rickets, eg:

When I'm through with ye, ye'll be crying like a little girl!
It's an honor to learn from such an expert in the field.

  • In Apollo Justice Ace Attorney, the Judge tells Alita Tiala that she is not being a good fiance, she responds that she's flattered.
  • Happens many times in Sam and Max Freelance Police, concerning Max and his tendency for mass destruction, to put things in perspective: when Max is elected President of the United States, Impeach Max Weekly becomes a regular publication, surprisingly unsurprisingly Max enjoys reading it.
  • In Western versions of Sonic Adventure, Sonic calls Dr. Robotnik an "Eggman" thanks to his obvious love of egg-shaped Giant Mecha. Robotnik spites Sonic and takes it as a term of endearment, asking everyone to call him "Dr. Eggman" from now on.
  • In-game example from Valve in Team Fortress 2. Due to people using external programs to idle for in game item drops, valve removed all such ill-gotten items from those players inventories, and gave all legitimate players a new, free hat, in the form of a (fake) halo called Cheater's Lament. The Result? All players who DIDN'T have a halo, ceased to assist players who did.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, not so much a straight-up insult, but in explaining to Quina why he chose him/her to accompany him to the Earth Shrine, Zidane states "Well... I sort of got stuck with the leftovers..." Quina reacts with delight, which puzzles Zidane, until s/he explains, "There old saying in my tribe... 'Leftovers good!'"
  • Somewhat of a variant in Mother 3; Kumatora speaks insultingly of Yokuba/Fassad when she learns about Salsa's kidnapped girlfriend. When she's in the process of saying "that cheap bastard" is "screwed up," he smugly appears on the scene and says, "Oh, did you call for me? I happen to be that screwed-up, cheap bastard you speak of!"
  • At the beginning of Sam & Max Season 3 Episode 5, "The City That Dares Not Sleep!" Satan is issuing a press release from the roof of a building. In an inversion of the trope, he's protesting all the people who are blaming the current disaster on him; sure, it's a tragedy, every second the problem isn't solved racks up thousands more dollars worth of property damage, and the trains have stopped running, but it's all just mindless destruction! Where's the temptation? Nobody's going to do any kind of significant sinning because of this; in fact there's a very good chance it will make people turn to God.
  • Heavy Rain:

Norman Jayden: Blake, you are an unbalanced, psychopathic asshole!
Carter Blake: I'll take that as a compliment.

    • To make it fair, there's also the mission, "Covered Market" where Blake tells Norman to "fuck off", and how did Norman respond? He smiles it off.
      • To expand upon this, They had just finished a job confronting a suspect who had looked like he was going to pull a gun on Blake, Norman has a clear shot at him and could have killed him, instead he Hesitated. It turns out to be a cross and they get out fine but Blake is understandably mad that he was willing to let the guy kill him if he did have a gun. Norman's response? He berates him for wanting him to kill the guy and thus leading into the aforementioned "Fuck Off".
  • Dawn of War Dark Crusade has a hypocritical one when the player as Chaos attacks the Space Marine stronghold. Upon capturing the Relic to fulfill a secondary objective, Captain Thule calls the Chaos commander Eliphas a "daemon-spawn". Eliphas replies dryly that it's kinda funny hearing a Blood Raven trying to insult someone else's parentage when the Blood Ravens don't even know who their own primarch was. Note that by the tone of his reply, Eliphas did took the euphemism as a compliment (since the entire point of his campaign is ascension into a daemon prince).
  • In the 1st Degree has this little gem of dialogue:

Inspector Looper: I'm lucky?! Listen, lady! Your friend was murdered this morning, and I'm trying to figure out what happened, and you are acting like a class...like a girl dog.
Ruby Garcia: (amused) They won't let you say "bitch"?

Brad Garrison: You're one hell of a journalist, aren't you, Frank? A hotheaded, underhanded, hotshot paparazzi with nothing better to do than to invade people's privacy.
Frank West: I try... You got a point?

  • Grand Theft Auto Vice City, specifically VCPR's Pressing Issues debate show at one point has firebrand preacher and evangelical conman Pastor Richards, espousing the "virtues" of his religion/Salvation Statue fund. Show host Maurice Chvez has this to say:

Maurice Chavez: Pastor Richards, as a human being I have to say, I find your philosophy or cult or whatever it is, utterly and completely appalling.
Pastor Richards: Why thank you! I knew you'd understand.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • In Erfworld, shortly after being summoned, Parson is told that he must refer to his lord and master in a respectful manner. He says that in his world, the highest term of respect is "tool"; Stanley the Plaid, being on a quest to gather divine artifacts called the Arkentools adopts "Tool" as his new title.
    • Later in Erfworld, Jillian leaves with her army after telling the Prince of Jetstone that everything that comes out of his father's mouth is utter crap. The Warlord commander tells the Prince when he becomes King, he should remember Jillian's behavior. The Prince remarks that when he is King, he would hope to be half the queen Jillian is. The commander has a spit-take behind the Prince.
  • From Narbonic, Professor Madblood's Von Boom award acceptance speech.

Lupin Madblood: [...] I plan to use the cash prize to rebuild my lair, which was destroyed by bumbling buffoons, with the goal of crushing you all beneath my heel. Good night and God bless.
Artie: I have to say, he gave it a lot of class.
Helen B. Narbonic (grinning): He mentioned us!
Dave Davenport: This is the third storyline in a row where I've had to wear a tie.

  • Brian Clevinger was on the receiving end of this when he published the "ending" to Eight Bit Theater. He subscribes to the philosophy that the funniest jokes are on the audience (thus the bogus No Ending). He expected a deluge of hate mail for that, but found he was on the receiving end of a tidal wave of compliments for writing the perfect ending to the comic. Clevinger was very deeply upset by his audience's reaction.
    • In other words, the Insult Backfire was Compliment Backfire.
    • And of course, his character Black Mage would fit this trope perfectly as well:

Black Mage: Hi, we were talking back there in the magic shop.
White Mage: Ah, the morally bankrupt violent little man.
Black Mage: Exactly. Anyway, I wanted to ask you something.

Abbie: Dude!! That's... That's nefarious!
Joel: Aww, thanks. You're making me blush!

Rumisiel: Anyone ever tell you you're a bitch?
Cassiel: It was my class nickname in the yearbook. Ah... Memories...

  • Precocious features the inevitable student council election, narrowing down to Roddy versus Dionne. Roddy starts describing Dionne as 'a soulless beast with malicious intentions!' Dionne's rebuttal? A happy "It's true!".
  • In the recent Fan Girl invasion arc of And Shine Heaven Now, a fangirl pounces on Jeeves, who proceeds to note that the fangirl's outfit leaves something to be desired. The fangirl's reaction?

Fangirl: ...wait, Jeeves hates my clothing! JEEVES HATES MY CLOTHING EVERYBODY! MY EXISTENCE HAS BEEN VALIDATED!

    • Later...

Jeeves: All of you are clad in the most garish, unappealing costumes ever to have been assembled from colors not found in nature.
Fangirls: WHEEEEEEEE OMG!
Alucard: Hey!

Miho: I wasn't aware the Tokyo police employed uneducated, paranoid, delusional foreign delinquents.
Largo: In my case, they made an exception.

Web Original[edit | hide]

Luigi: You greedy guido bastard!
Wario: That's Honorary Deputy guido, to you, now!

Kiljoy: (sarcastically) Nice dress!
Zinwrath: Damn right it's a nice dress! Brings out my girlish figure.

Chaka: Jade, you're a sick, sick girl.
Generator: Thanks, Toni!


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The poster for the ultraviolent movie Boogie el Aceitoso has the poster call Boogie sexist, racist and disgusting, and Boogie thanking the poster for the compliment.
  • In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Devil May Hare", Bugs tries to shoo away a fawn by warning it about the Tasmanian Devil, not realizing that the latter is right behind him:

Bugs: He's a mean, vicious, nasty, no-good, baggy-eyed, marble-headed ignoramorous. He's a stupid... (turning and seeing Taz) Eyee...
Taz: Flattery'll get you nowhere.

  • Inverted in Futurama Bender is trying to compliment a fellow soldier (Leela in disguise), but doesn't quite grasp the concept:

Bender: You hard fightin', hard fartin', ugly, ugly, son of a...
Leela: Stop, stop flattering me!

    • It probably wasn't that Bender didn't grasp the concept of complimenting so much that the scene was a parody of Testosterone Poisoning.
    • Also used by Fry when trying to defend himself and his friends who felt insulted from Leela's new boyfriend dislike of abnormality:

Fry: Zoidberg is a horrible monster who smells like he eats garbage, and does!
Zoidberg: Damn straight!!!

    • "Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?" is chock full of these.

Dr. Zoidberg: How do I look?
Bender: Like whale barf.
Dr. Zoidberg: Then the illusion is complete.

Dr. Zoidberg: You seem malnourished. Are you suffering from internal parasites?
Edna: Why, yes! Thanks for noticing!

      • That one's a bit of a subversion, as it actually was intended as a compliment; Fry had advised Zoidberg to tell Edna she looked thin.

Fry: I'm flattered, really. If I was gonna do it with a big freaky mud bug, you'd be way up the list.
Edna: Hush, you romantic fool.

    • Let's not forget when Leela tried to explain to Zapp Brannigan why she slept with him:

Leela: For a split second, my common sense was overwhelmed by pity.
Zapp: A split second is all it takes.

Aang: ...You're insane, aren't you.
Herbalist: That's riiight...

    • During "The Beach", Zuko, Mai, Azula and Ty Lee end up spilling forth all their emotional baggage to one another. Azula chides Ty Lee for having run away to join a circus (even calling her a circus freak). Ty Lee, who is the youngest of six identical siblings immediately retorts that it was a way of finding her own identity, and that "Circus freak is a compliment!"
      • Given that she was crying as she said that, it probably hurt her at least a little.
    • And then there was the lovely little family reunion between Zuko and his baby sister:

Zuko: You lied to me!
Azula: (smugly) Like I've never done that before.

    • Probably the best use of this occurs during the Day of Black Sun invasion. When Zuko confronts Ozai, this is part of the exchange:

Zuko: We've (the Fire Kingdom) created an era of fear in the world, and if we don't want the world to destroy itself, we need to replace it with an era of peace, and kindness.
Ozai: [laughing dismisively] Your uncle has gotten to you, hasn't he?
Zuko: [smiles] Yes, he has.

Rhino: (while chasing Spider-Man) You like being hunted, freak?!
Spider-Man: Would you please look who's talking?
Rhino: Oh, I may be a freak, but I'm not a coward!

  • Probably done more than once in The Simpsons, but this example stands out. When Bart was working for money in order to save up for something, he worked at a barber shop. He gets his pay and it's hair instead of money. Bart asks the barber about that and asks if the barber's crazy, and the barber smiles widely and nods, also laughing in a creepy way as a disturbed Bart backs out of the barber shop.
    • From another episode:

Homer: Hey, Flanders, you stink!
Flanders: (cheerfully) Oops. Thanks for the nose-news. I'd better cancel that dinner party tonight.

    • Martin Prince, competing with Bart to become class president, put up a campaign poster with the slogan "A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy!". Bart of course put up another poster with the same slogan.
    • Upon seeing Bart in his pajamas, this attempt to capitalize on the situation by Jimbo quite conclusively backfired.

Jimbo: (mockingly) Nice P Js Simpsons. Did your mommy buy them for ya?
Bart: Of course she did. Who else would have?
Jimbo: (beat) All right Simpson. You win this round.

    • And another between Ned and Homer in "Hurricane Neddy":

Ned Flanders: Homer... you are the worst human being I have ever met.
Homer Simpson: Hey, I got off pretty easy.

Superman: You're insane.
Vandal Savage: ...True. But that doesn't mean I'm not good company. Say, you want to come over to my place?
Superman: ...
Vandal Savage: Like you have anything better to do.

Livewire: Are you outta your mind?!
Harley Quinn: <thinks hard for several seconds, then smiles broadly> Yes!

Mario: Koopa, you're the meanest, ugliest lizard that ever slimed its way across Cramalot!
Bowser: Flattery will get you nowhere.

Peach: I should have known never to trust you!
Mario: Yeah, once a sewer-breath slime wagon, always a sewer-breath slime wagon!
Koopa: How nice of you to say so!

GizmoDuck: I still think your crime fighting style is disreputable, disturbed, and possibly devious.
Darkwing: Well, from you, that's a compliment.

  • Mildly subverted in Voltron where Allura insults the evil Prince Lotor and Lotor does feel insulted...but for the wrong reasons.

Allura: You're a monster just like your father!
Lotor: That old fool?! Why I'm twice the monster he is!

"Some people call me a jinx. That's so nice of them."

Wanda: You evil little boy!
Remy: Why thank you.

    • Done again in Abra-Catastrophe, with Timmy's mother calling out on Crocker:

Timmy's Mom: You great evil monster!
Crocker: Thank you!

    • Also:

Timmy: You are the absolute worst human being on Earth!
Vicky: Thank you.

  • Happens on DuckTales after Glomgold previously accused Scrooge of being "too soft":

Flintheart Glomgold: You're a low-down, ruthless rat!
Scrooge: What can I say, Glomgold? You bring out the best in me.

Rattrap: You're nothin' but a schemin' snake-in-the-grass!
Starscream: Flattery will get you flattened, vermin.

    • Also a version where a genuine complement is basically taken as a backfired insult:

Blackarachnia: What are you looking at?
Silverbolt: That star. It's a planet really. It's Venus. It reminds me of you.
Blackarachnia: Dark, hot, deadly, and poisonous? You're sweet.
Silverbolt: No, wait. That's not what I meant...

    • From "Other Victories":

Tigerhawk: (To Tarantulas) You're insane.
Tarantulas: So they say! (laugh/jibberish combo)

Mirta: You're mean!
Icy: Mean? Try diabolical!

Grammi: The Gummis will stop you yet, you-- you evil, monstrous villain!
Igthorn: <clasps hands in joy> Why, thank you!

Vendetta: * while pretending to be Charlotte in mockery* Tee-hee, I would like a stupid puppy!
Charlotte: * appears from behind Vendetta* So would I!

Beezy: What kind of heartless monster could design such a horrible place?
Heloise: (coyly) That would be me, thank you.

Jimmy: What kind of twisted...
Beezy:...monstrous...
Jimmy:...horrible...
Beezy:...evil creature...
Jimmy:...is capable of such a thing?
Heloise: (still coyly) Oh, stop it, you're embarrassing me.

Numbuh 1: "You're despicable!"
Delightful Children: "Thank you, Nigel."

  • The page quote is from Sonic Sat AM, namely from "Super Sonic" when Bunnie was trying to free Sally, then being shot, with a paralyzing ray, by a robot, at Robotnik's orders.
    • Similarly, in "Blast To The Past", when Robotnik was referred to as Julian:

Sir Charles: You are pure scum, Julian.
Julian: Why thank you.

DNAmy: You are the biggest meanie in the whole wide world!
Drakken: A-ha! You have heard of me!

Vlad: It's not possible! You're an idiot! An idiot!
Jack: Maybe so. But I'm the idiot who beat you.

Rhino: It ain't me, boss!
Scarface: I know it aint you, Rhino! You're too stupid to be a mole!
Rhino: Gee, thanks boss!

    • In "Beware the Creeper," the as-yet unnamed Creeper confronts The Joker's henchmen:

Henchman: We don't know nothing about no Joker, creep!
Pre-Creeper: Creep? CREEP? ... I like it! My new name - the Creep! No, wait, too negative...

  • An example from the 'proud nerd' category pops up in Freakazoid!:

Freakazoid: You really have no life, do you?
Fan Boy: [proudly] No, sir!

  • Done in one episode of Earthworm Jim (in which Psycrow and Professor Monkey-For-a-Head steal Jim's suit), though instead of being flattered, it just leaves Jim confused:

Psycrow: Face your doom, spineless worm-thingy!
Jim: Was that supposed to be an insult? I really don't have a spine, you know...

Zim: (To Tak) You're a worse pilot than I am! (Beat) Wait a minute...

Daria: "Sometimes your shallowness is so much, it actually has depth."
Quinn: "Thanks!"

  • In South Park Stan and Kyle regularly tell Cartman he's a most unpleasant person for his selfish, manipulative schemes. He doesn't accept it OR deny it - he doesn't care. It bounces right off him.
  • In Disney's The Legend of Tarzan, after Queen La has killed some of her Leopard Men...

Jane: You wretched woman!
La: It's too late for compliments my dear.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Post-Civil War America suffered from a rash of corrupt Republicans in the White House and corrupt Democrats in the cities. Cartoonist Thomas Nast was so disgusted he drew cartoons portraying Republicans as giant elephants fat on their embezzled dollars and Democrats as stubborn donkeys. Over the years, the animals became the two parties' unofficial mascots and have lost all negative connotations.
    • Older Than They Think for Democrats and donkeys. During the Jackson administration, Jackson's opponents used the donkey to portray the Democrats. The problem: in the cities, a donkey is a figure of fun (as in, making a jackass of yourself); in the country, however, donkeys were hardworking, reliable, essential animals. Cue a rise in support for the Democrats among farmers (at the time, a majority of Americans).
  • In its early days, Long Beach State University's baseball team was called "dirtbags" because financial circumstances forced it to practice on an all-dirt infield. The insult was re-purposed to be a reflection of hard work and hard-nosed play. It is now an unofficial nickname for the (highly successful) team.
  • Other Real Life examples include labels such as Gothic, Baroque, Impressionist, Christian, Methodist, Mormon, Puritan, Fauvist, Cubist, and Prime Minister. They all started out as insults but were adopted by the targets as their own.
    • Similarly, the pretty much universal "Tory" for British Conservatives originally meant something like "Papist Irish Bandit". The less well known today, but still embraced "Whig" for a Liberal meant "Puritan Scots Pleb".
      • Puritan was also an insult to begin with, then was accepted by those it targeted.
    • Baroque still retains its negative meaning, though, and has even expanded it beyond architecture metaphorically.
    • Don't forget Transcendentalism, which was so named because detractors claimed that its followers transcended sanity and reason.
    • Quakers!
  • The origin of the word "Yankee" is not certain, but some believe that it comes from a Dutch word meaning "hick or "rube." Americans eventually adopted it as an inoffensive word to refer to themselves before it got mixed up in The American Civil War and became polarizing again. In an inversion of the trope, many foreigners still use it or the shortened "yank" as a generic word for Americans, though some Americans might take it as an insult for reasons quite unrelated to its original offensiveness.
    • Important sidenote: Yanqui is a highly-impolite synonym for norteamericano (North American, i.e. someone from the US) in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries. This makes it more or less equivalent to gringo.
      • "Gringo" is not impolite, but rather colloquial, as indicate by the Royal Spanish Language Academy in its dictionary. "Yanqui", on the other hand, carries a definite "Ugly North American" connotation.
  • The song "Yankee Doodle" is thought to have originated from British soldiers in the Colonial Army to mock the colonials. "Doodle" is thought to have originally meant a fool or simpleton. The verse "stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni" mocks a foppish fashion at the time involving feather caps and tall wigs. Essentially the song paints a typical American as a backwoods hick with delusions of sophistication. The insulting meaning was quickly forgotten and it has become perhaps the most classic patriotic song outside of the national anthem.
  • The Canadian-penned song "American Woman" is not too complimentary of American Women, but most people seem to think that it's a celebration of American Women.
    • Of course the song isn't even about American Women at all, but rather American politics, adding even more to the insult backfire.
    • Referenced in one of the Muppet Viral Videos, where Sam sings "American Woman" with patriotic spirit... until he notices the lyrics.
  • When around 250 Dutch nobles presented a list of grievances to the Spanish ruler of the Netherlands, one of her councillors expressed surprise that she was worried about "these beggars" (ces gueux),[2] which became geuzen in Dutch. Less than a decade later, the watergeuzen (Water Beggars) had proceeded to seize several key cities in the north, raid several Spanish fleets, and set off a full-scale religious and political rebellion against the Spanish crown that would last eighty years before ending in Dutch independence.
    • Thanks to this incident, Insult Backfire has its own word in Dutch: geuzennaam: "beggar's name", which is used to indicate reappropriations such as these.
  • Historically, new but unpopular mathematical ideas were given pejorative names by the people intent on adhering to the status quo, and then happily adopted by the people proposing the new idea. Math terms most of us have heard in school came about that way: irrational numbers, imaginary/complex numbers, pathological cases. This has been going on long enough to makes this trope Older Than Radio at least.
    • That is also how the Big Bang was named. The term was coined by Fred Hoyle, a proponent of the competing steady-state hypothesis.
    • Similarly, Schrödinger's Cat was originally supposed to demonstrate how absurd the Copenhagen Interpretation was.
    • Likewise, the Mpemba Effect (that under certain circumstances warmer water will freeze before colder water) was originally a pejorative term.
    • There are also the lesser known ideal numbers, which were later just called ideals.
    • 'Irrational' is not a pejorative; it is a literal description: "not expressible as a ratio".
  • Black was traditionally a derogatory phrase when applied to African-Americans, with "Negro" regarded as the more proper and acceptable term. This was more or less inverted in the 1960s.
  • The word queer, once an insult leveled against homosexuals, has largely been adopted by the community for self-description.

Homer Simpson: Yeah, and that's another thing! I resent you people using that word. That's our word for making fun of you! We need it!

    • Similarly, many gay women choose the word "dyke" as self-definition and find "lesbian" an insulting or dirty word. Similar examples exist in various languages.
    • Ellen DeGeneres initially preferred to called a "gay woman" rather than "lesbian", as she considered the latter term at the time to be unintentionally alienating to straight people, and, more simply, didn't like the way it sounded to the ear.
  • Redneck, though still mainly used pejoratively, has increasingly been embraced as a proud self-identifier in recent years (as in Gretchen Wilson's country hit "Redneck Woman", for example).
    • Amusingly, it was originally an endearing term. Some reporter back at the turn of the 20th century coined this term when describing them because of the red bandanas they wore on their necks coming to fight in court for their right to form worker unions.
  • In World War II, where General Rommel called the Australian soldiers in Libya 'the rats of Tobruk' (Tobruk being a location in the east of Libya). Guess what nickname the Australian soldiers wore as a badge of pride...
    • The source of the term was actually the Nazi broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw, mocking the Aussies defences as 'rat holes'. He also named the 'Scrap iron Flotilla', who kept the garisson supplied, in a similar fashion; his success as a propagandist generally left something to be desired.
  • During the Height of the Jack Thompson phenomenon, Mr. Thompson started labeling people who played video games "Pixelantes". Needless to say, it didn't take long before the T-shirts emblazoned with "I'm a Pixelante" started showing up.
  • An interview with the famous liberal psychologist Karl Menninger on the NewsHour ended with the question "Does it bother you when you're called a bleeding heart"? He responded, "Not in the least. I'm flattered."
    • On the other side of the aisle, there are conservatives who have proudly adopted the label of the "vast right-wing conspiracy," a label originally applied to conservatives by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton as an insult.
  • Have you self-identified as a pirate lately due to your habit of downloading illegal files on the internet? Thank the RIAA; they dredged that label out of the bins of history to try and tar the public perception of copyright infringers. I've heard it hypothesized that if the RIAA had picked a less-romantic label than "Pirate", software piracy itself wouldn't be as popular. Now if they had labeled it "Software Pedophilia"... Pirates are super cool. People wanting to be called pirates now include political parties in several European states. Seriously, who wouldn't want to be called a pirate?
    • Ninjas.
    • And anyone who knows how horrible being a pirate really was (and is).
  • "Geek" has undergone a long history. Initially used to refer to a carny sideshow act, (The connotation of an expert in a very limited field, such as chasing chickens) then used insultingly to refer to intelligent but obsessed people. That is until geeks, like pretty much everyone else in this section, took the insult and started wearing it as a badge of honor. These days, magazines throw terms like 'geek chic' around without even the slightest tinge of irony. Ditto with "nerd."
    • It's not too hard to figure out, you see it everyday; And those that were the farthest out have gone the other way; You see them on the freeway, It don't look like a lot of fun; But don't you try to fight it--"An idea who's time has come." Don't tell me that I'm crazy, don't tell me I'm nowhere: Take it from me--It's hip to be a square!—Huey Lewis (and the News)
    • Taken to the extreme with Geek Pride Day (May 25), originally a day for the Spanish friki.
  • There is a button from the early '70s that says "Hi. I'm an effete, impudent intellectual snob", a reference to VP Spiro Agnew's claim that the antiwar movement was led by an "effete corps of impudent snobs."
  • In the 1994 Gubernatorial race in Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party put out a campaign advertisement excoriating the obstructionism of Republican then-governor Arne Carlson, set to a strangely upbeat and peppy tune. "That Darn Arne!" became more popular among Carlson's supporters than among his opponents, and he cruised to victory over DFLer John Marty in the general election.
  • Many Conservative attacks to Liberal Cities/Institutions have been adopted as well. "The People's Republic of Boulder/Austin/Santa Monica" "Berzerkley" (The University of California-Berkeley), "Moscow on the Mississippi" (Minneapolis, Minnesota or specifically the University of Minnesota), "Mad City" (Madison, Wisconsin), and so on.
    • Rogue's Island!
    • In Ithaca, NY, we're "Ten Square Miles Surrounded By Reality." Cornell students were once called "Heathens on the Hill."
    • Heck, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, you can buy stickers practically anywhere that say "The People's Republic of Cambridge."
    • Conservatives are actually happy of this; at last the institutions admit what they actually are in so many words!
  • This YouTube video (Warning: contains the N-word).
  • When the New Zealand rugby team toured England in the early 20th century, an English newspaper commented negatively on their "somber all-black outfits". They have been known as the All Blacks ever since.
  • When Jon Stewart appeared on The O Reilly Factor, O'Reilly claimed that 87% of Daily Show fans were intoxicated while watching and repeatedly referred to them as "stoned slackers". The fans adopted it as a Fan Community Nicknames and now there are "I'm one of Jon's stoned slackers" T-shirts.
  • In Australian Rules Football, North Melbourne were nicknamed the "Shinboners" due to their reputation for kicking opposition players in the shins. Their fans proudly adopted the name.
    • Geelong's nickname of the Cats came from a story about a black cat crossing the ground, and Geelong winning the match.
    • In American sports, many teams on both the professional and Collegiate level received their nicknames this way. For example: the Pittsburgh Pirates received their name after they "pirated" a player from the folding Player's League, the Philadelphia (now Oakland) Athletics mascot became an elephant after Giants Manager John McGraw called Connie Mack's team and the new American League a "white elephant," and the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish are said to be named for the contemporary stereotypes of the Catholic college.
  • Slight Variation: Abraham Lincoln, when called "two-faced", reportedly fired back "If I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this one?"
  • Andrew Jackson was called a jackass by his opponents when he was campaigning. He liked it so much he used it in his campaign posters.
  • In youth the eccentric greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope was banished from his hometown. He later remarked: "The Sinopans have condemned me to banishment. I condemn them to stay at home!"
  • Abraham Lincoln once used the term Michigander to insult Lewis Cass. People in Michigan now use it to refer to themselves.
  • Jesus freak.
    • 'Christian' was originally a less than complementary term bestowed on the followers of Jesus by the pagans. You'll notice that for most of Acts the text refers to 'The Way'.
      • "Jesus freak" kind of wavers in and out of insultdom depending on who's saying so, and how they define it (and whether they define that definition as an insult when they address themselves that way). Sometimes it's used interchangeably with "Christian", while other times it's a Christian who is so into being one that they tend to belabor the point, usually with a side order of offhanded insults towards non-Christians and a tall, frosty glass of thinking their faith makes them immune to criticism.
  • "Chicano" was originally a derogatory term for the American children of Mexican immigrants, meant as a reminder that they did not quite belong in either the U.S. or Mexico. Chicanos eventually adopted the name as a symbol of pride for their heritage.
    • Same thing with the term "Nuyorican" for american children of Puerto Rican immigrants.
  • When President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe (Hyperinflation dude, also responsible for turning the country around from it's high standard of living among Africa to it's current state) was compared to Hitler, he had this to say: "This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources? If that is Hitler, then let me be a Hitler tenfold."
  • The words "guy" and "dude" were both originally insults. The former referred to Guy Fawkes, a failed royal assassin. The latter was originally a clueless newbie on a ranch (possibly from the Irish word dúd, "fool").
  • Fan Wank. Many non-Brits understand what Fan Wank is; few understand what it means without the first few letters and many use it as an abbreviation. A few Brits, aware of what it means, have jokingly or otherwise mentioned their honour if someone assumes a claim is wank material. After all...
  • In World War I, the Kaiser commented on Britain's "contemptible little army", the BEF called themselves the old contemptibles in honour.
    • The same man, Kaiser Wilhelm II, was also subject to a strange inversion of this trope. After the Kaiser called for Germans intervening in the Boxer Uprising to make the Chinese remember them "like the Huns", British troops used "Hun" as a derogatory term for German soldiers during the First World War.
  • Australians have this reaction to comments about our country's origins as a Penal Colony. As one T-shirt put it, "Bet you wish your great-great-great-grandfather pinched a loaf of bread."
  • When Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the colonel in command of the all-black 54th Regiment during the American Civil War, died at Fort Wagner, he was stripped and buried with his men while the bodies of other Union officers were returned as an insult for daring to lead black troops. His father, however, proclaimed that he was proud to know that he rests with his brave and devoted soldiers.
  • A snappy insult backfire is popularly attributed to Chinese premier Zhou Enlai during an exchange with his USSR counterpart Nikita Khrushchev. Although China and Russia were nominally allies, at the time relations between the two countries were very tense, particularly on the issue of who was adhering more closely to Communist principles.

Khrushchev: The difference between the Soviet Union and China is that I rose to power from the peasant class, whereas you came from the privileged Mandarin class.
Zhou: True. But there is this similarity. Each of us is a traitor to his class.

  • The Labour Party, in an attack ad for the 2010 general election, released an ad depicting David Cameron as Gene Hunt with his Quattro, with the caption "Don't let him take Britain back into the 1980s". Obviously, Gene being the Memetic Badass he is, this lead to tweets describing the poster as awesome and several Conservative campaign staffers going on the record wishing that they thought of it first. The Tories made their own version. David Cameron kicked his campaign off officially by closing his speech with the Tories' version.
    • Later, after Cameron became Prime Minister, Labour leader Ed Miliband compared him to Flashman...apparently not realising how popular the character is.
  • Danish avant-garde film director Lars von Trier, (Riget, Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist, Melancholia) was originally just named Lars Trier. One of his teachers at the Danish Film School added the "von" during a heated discussion, to mock his pupil's aloof, aristocratic style. Trier liked the sound of it and adopted it as his nom-de-guerre.
  • Author Steven Johnson wrote the book Everything Bad is Good for You, in which he described the increasing intellectual sophistication of popular culture as the Sleeper Curve, because everyone was reminded of that movie when he described it.
  • In the Furry Fandom, "furfag" is known as an insult. Your Mileage May Vary, as most still see it that way. However, it's become something of an affectionate term when referring to other furries recently, especially those who are part of the GLBT community as well.
    • This is most likely caused by the various imageboards, where "<topic>fag" (eg furfag) can both be an insult (used by those who dislike the topic) as well as a term to refer to each other (used by those who discuss said topic), which in the latter case pretty much makes it this trope.
  • In 2002, the then-editor of The Daily Telegraph, Campbell Reid, sent Media Watch host David Marr a dead fish; a replica of it is now awarded as the Campbell Reid Perpetual Trophy for the Brazen Recycling of Other People's Work. Known as "The Barra" and bearing the motto Carpe Verbatim, it is awarded annually for bad journalism and particularly plagiarism (a practice for which Reid was frequently criticised).
  • In the 1993 Canadian federal election, an advertising firm hired by the Conservatives put out a political attack ad that made fun of Liberal leader Jean Chretien's appearance due to the paralysis he'd suffered since childhood on one side of his face from childhood due to Bells's Palsy. Aside from the sympathy this garnered Chretien and the resulting backlash against the Tories, the ad allowed Chretien to joke that at least he only talked out of one side of his mouth.
  • A couple of examples above refer to it, but "bitch" is being taken back by women and used as something of an empowering slogan. Meredith Brooks' song "Bitch" and Missy Elliot's "She's a Bitch" seem to be where the move began.
    • And, incidentally, where it seemed to have stopped with the mainstream, although occasionally in a show or movie, if a woman is in a confrontation, you might hear her say something like "I'm the wrong bitch to mess with."
  • "Politically Correct, and Proud of It!"
    • "Politically Incorrect, and Proud of It!"
  • "The Iron Duke", the famous nickname of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was originally applied derisively by political opponents during his tenure as Prime Minister, after iron shutters were installed on Downing Street because of rioting, but later became absorbed into the mythology surrounding his career as a reference to his stern, quintessentially British resolve.
  • During World War II, the universal word for the Allied soldiers was "kichiku beihei" which translates literally as "barbarian American soldiers" or better as "dirty American devils" you can find the phrase in its original kanji on t-shirts made in America.
  • In a similar manner to Wellington, notoriously divisive Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was nicknamed The Iron Lady by a Soviet newspaper in an article depicting her recent visit to the Soviet Union in a very derogatory manner. She liked the title and claimed it as her own.
    • This being a double mistranslation of her existing nickname of Iron Maiden, you can see why she considered it an improvement.
    • And considering that the Soviets were notorious for a certain other symbol made of iron, you'd think they'd shy away from employing that analogy.
  • Soviet Canuckistan. Embraced by many Canadians.
  • After Vanessa Redgrave's 1977 Oscar acceptance speech, many JDL members started wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Zionist Hoodlum."
  • Here's a subtle, sartorial example: In early 20th-century Spain, many blue-collar workers in the big cities wore a dark blue one-piece garment (sort of similar to a prison jumpsuit) called the mono azul ("blue monkey"). The name mono azul was probably intended to humiliate and degrade the common laborer. But in the summer of 1936, after the people of Barcelona (a radically left-leaning city) revolted against their city government in reaction to General Francisco Franco's illegal attempt to seize power, Barcelonans of all classes who held communist sympathies began going out on the streets proudly wearing the mono azul as a sign of revolutionary egalitarianism; people who dared to still wear three-piece suits and hats could expect to be harassed, or worse. While they were at it, the Barcelonans also seized control of the city's taxicabs and buses, plastered vibrantly colored propaganda posters everywhere, and forced luxury hotels and five-star restaurants throughout the city to open their doors to the common people. George Orwell, the famed British author and social critic (and socialist) was on hand to view many of these dramatic changes, and he remarked that everything looked so alien that he couldn't even be sure if he was in Europe anymore.
  • "Peckerwoods" was originally a slur used by blacks to insult whites, now the Peckerwoods are among such white supremacist prison gangs as the Aryan Brotherhood, and the Nazi Lowriders
  • There are those who play Born In The USA as anything but the protest song it was meant to be.
  • In a pre-game interview in the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference First Round, Miami Heat forward LeBron James described their Game 5 (in which Miami was up 3-1 in the series against the Philadelphia 76ers) as "Just finishing our breakfast." In response, 76ers guard Lou Williams nicknamed his teammates after various breakfast items, such as Marreese Speights as "Fruit Salad," Thaddeus Young as "Hash Browns," Spencer Hawes as "Over Easy," and Andres Nocioni as "Huevos Rancheros." Hawes also added that, "A lot of times people don’t finish breakfast."
  • There is some debate as to whether "There stands Jackson like a stone wall." was complimentary or not.
  • Diogenes was told he lived like a dog. Apparently, it appealed to him enough for his entire school to be called "dog-like" (cynics). Making this Older Than Feudalism...
  • Author Jim Butcher tells the story of a creative writing teacher who he constantly clashed with, calling her way of writing boring, cliché and generic. He wrote a novel in her style to show how such a story would be; her response was that it would sell. The novel in question, of course, was Storm Front, the very first book in The Dresden Files; Butcher himself related this story as a way of admitting the Insult Backfire.
  • After several years of poor showings, Winnipeg's Football team the Blue Bombers (named after beer, of all things), has recently met with large success this season. After beginning to show their confidence on the field, opposing fans started talking about their swagger. Winnipeg promptly began referring to itself as Swaggerville.
  • The C++ programming language was widely criticised back in its heyday; critics included Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux. However, the criticisms levelled at it also contributed to its widespread use back in the nineties and early 2000s, and Bjarne Stroustrup, the designer of the language, acknowledges it:

"The major cause of complaints is C++ undoubted success. As someone remarked: There are only two kinds of programming languages: those people always bitch about and those nobody uses."

  • Napoleon Bonaparte dismissed Britain as "a nation of shopkeepers". Since that time, many British politicians have used the phrase in a praiseworthy fashion, referring to the country's tradition of small businessmen climbing the social ladder and driving the economy.
  • Dick Cheney has been compared to Darth Vader. He essentially took as being a combination of The Lancer, I Did What I Had to Do, Token Evil Teammate, and Evil Is Cool.
  • When Kevin Murphy replaced J. Elvis Weinstein as the voice of Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theater 3000, an angry fan sent him a banner that read "I HATE TOM SERVO'S NEW VOICE!" Murphy kept the banner as a souvenir and even hung it on his office wall. He also displayed it for the audience at a recent convention panel with the show's cast.
  • Alec Baldwin yelled at Greyhound in his tract against American Airlines for booting him off one of their planes. Greyhound's CEO proceeded to invite him on a Greyhound trip from New York to Boston as proof to him that, contrary to his claims in that tract, Greyhound isn't what they used to be, and that's a good thing.
  • Atheist high school student and activist Jessica Ahlquist campaigned to have her school remove a posted prayer. She was called an "evil little thing" by a state representative; her supporters created a college fund for her by selling T-shirts with this phrase on it.
  • One of the key factors in Dalton Mc Guinty's victory in the 2003 Ontario general election was the backfire from a rather bizarre insult, apparently from his primary opponent's campaign: "evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet".
  • Attempted in Barack Obama's 2012 campaign included a drive to take the term "Obamacare" and make it a positive nickname for the Affordable Care Act - right down to T-shirts and stickers made by the DNC emblazoned with the word. While Obama was reelected, thanks to a moderate Republican opponent who failed to energize Republicans as much as Obama's own campaigning, it didn't stick and the act was still spoken of negatively in 2016.
  • To Objectivists and some libertarians, selfishness would be the fulfillment of free-market and individualist ideals, so they would react to being called selfish with pride. However, this doesn't apply to all libertarians equally, with some countering accusations of greed and selfishness by saying that they are simply okay with both selfishness and altruism as long as the actions they lead to are voluntary and non-coercive, and with others openly denouncing the more individualist wing of the movement and/or advocating for various private charities.
  • A popular anti-Japanese slur in China is ???? (riben guizi, "Japanese demon"). Following an international dispute between the two countries in 2010 Japanese netizens noted that the slur looks like a Japanese girl's name, with ? ("-moto") being a common family name component and ? ("-ko") being a common female given name component. So, using the magic of Alternate Character Reading, they created the moe character Hinomoto Oniko, a Cute Oni Girl in traditional Japanese attire who became instantly popular on Japanese Image Boards and inspired an impressive amount of fanart, videos, and a VIPPERloid with her own image song.
  • The article "The End of the Creator-Driven Era in Television" attempted to defame My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic without seeing any episodes. The article made it onto 4chan, so the members decided to watch the show. To the writer's surprise, people loved it, and the article will forever be tied to creating the most famous Periphery Demographic in recent years; the Brony demographic.
  • Jaffa Cakes, the commercial was originally a bit of an insult towards sweet tooths and a Scare'Em Straight towards kids, but the kids who ate themselves into a chocolate coma looked so utterly fulfilled it completely ruined the point they were trying to make (sweets are bad). Eventually a company wound up making the fictional sweet into a real thing, which is very popular in the UK.
  • Lately, misandristic women have taken a liking to buying merchandise such as mugs made for drinking "male tears" as a way to mock men. However, people who are knowledgeable about what "Male Tears" means in other areas are more amused than angered, because male tears happens to be slang for semen in some places...
  • After Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election a desperate Democrat party and a Democrat supporting "mainstream media" made a blatantly coordinated attempt to blame his victory on "fake news" (in practice this merely meant news sources that were not left aligned). In response the alternative media it attempted to demonize jumped to report on inaccurate stories by the mainstream media as "fake news". Trump himself joined in on this in his post election victory tour, solidifying the turn around.
  1. "domo" in Japanese can mean "hello" or even "thank you", hence the Bilingual Bonus.
  2. French was the court language across Europe at the time