Nature of compliments

What is the nature of a true compliment? How can we distinguish between sincere, empty and ironic compliments? Can compliments that are situationally more or less required still be sincere?

This question has received little attention in the literature on compliments even though it seems to be a rather crucial one. It is intuitively obvious that some compliments are made with the speaker’s sincere appreciation for whatever he or she praises about the addressee, while other compliments take the form of a speech formula that has to be produced on certain occasions. In Western cultures, dinner invitations regularly more or less require a compliment about the food. A significantly changed appearance (new glasses, a new hair-cut, a shaved-off beard, a noticeably new piece of apparel, etc.) often requires a compliment or at least a comment from friends. Compliments that are given in such a situation are often felt to be less sincere, and special strategies are sometimes used to make them appear sincere in spite of their predicted nature (Jaworski 1995).

For a discussion of the suitability of different research methods for this particular set of questions see: