10

It feels awkward to give a famous author a less than favorable review.

  • 2
    The complete phrase is 'give someone a less than favorable review'. – Alan Carmack Sep 22 '16 at 10:46
  • 5
    For greater clarity, the phrase could have been written "give a famous author a less-than-favorable review." – Hatshepsut Sep 22 '16 at 18:22
  • Probably a better followup for ELU, but isn't this supposed to be hyphenated? – jaichele Sep 22 '16 at 19:07
  • it means give a review that is not very good; it could mean a review that is bad, but not too bad; and it could also mean give a review that's just plain bad – user13267 Sep 23 '16 at 0:36
14

The writer of the sentence is not giving the author a less.

Less is not a noun.

The complete noun phrase is a less than favorable review. This is the direct object of give.

Less than favorable means not favorable.

Another way to write this is

The writer is giving the author a review that is less than favorable.

So

a less than favorable review

equals

a review that is less than favorable

This is a nice way of saying

a bad/negative review

  • 3
    @abligh Technically true, but I don't think I've ever seen it used for neutral; those are usually just stated plainly. – Harris Sep 22 '16 at 13:46
  • 3
    @abligh is right, a neutral or a mixed review, or even a somewhat positive but not enthusiastic review might be seen (by some people) as "less than favorable". I think in this specific case, if this is a famous/popular author, there will be plenty of people who gush about any new book, so it feels somewhat uncomfortable to give a review that is anything but enthusiastically positive. – BradC Sep 22 '16 at 13:47
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    Regardless of the logical plain meaning of the expression, "less than extremely good" is so widely used as a euphemism for "bad" that if you mean to convey a different meaning (such as "somewhere in the range from bad to mildly good") I would advise using different wording. – David K Sep 22 '16 at 13:59
  • 3
    @abligh The question title was phrased in British English (favourable) even if the body of the question used the American spelling. British English often uses understatement for emphasis. ‘Less than favourable’ would typically mean ‘quite bad’ or ‘very bad’ on this side of the pond. – Calchas Sep 22 '16 at 14:31
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    @Calchas ah I see. Having worked in both, I agree that 'less than favourable' is more likely to be negative in Britain than it is in the US. Clearly the 'u' has some semantic value after all :-) – abligh Sep 22 '16 at 14:45
13

"A less than favourable" review is an euphemistic way to say:

  • "a bad/negative" review.

Edit:

This follows the general pattern in English (as in other languages) of using "not very" to imply the opposite of what a modifier usually means:

That building is not very tall (the building is not tall)

His moral character is less than pristine (his moral character is not good)

She doesn't think very highly of that movie (she has a low opinion of the movie)

The nuance varies between each of these. The "not very" construction can imply somewhat the opposite or completely opposite depending on context.

In this example, a "less than favourable" review is a bad review. The "less than" is a euphemism, a word or phrase that sounds better than it actually means.

As with many things in English, it's important to listen to how native speakers use this construction, and practice it yourself where appropriate.

Side note: Favourable is the BrE spelling. In AmE it's spelled favorable.

  • can you explain more please? I did not get it. – Anfi Sep 22 '16 at 10:44
  • 4
    If you give a famous author a riview that is "less than favourable", that is "not favourable" is just a way to say "a bad or negative" review. – user5267 Sep 22 '16 at 10:47
5

This expression is a great example of a common rhetorical device formally called litotes, but more commonly known as "understatement". In this case "less than favorable" is a tongue-in-cheek way of saying "unfavorable" with the understanding that anything less than favorable is in a category of being not favorable. "Less than favorable" understates the fact that it is indeed the opposite of favorable.

Another example would be "I could(n't) care less", for which there is roaring and raging debate that only saying "couldn't" communicates the correct meaning of "I do not care".

A less controversial example would be "He was not a little surprised by her return", meaning "He was very surprised by her return".

3

A "less than favorable review" could mean a bad review.

In the case of a famous author, it is likely to mean a "lukewarm" review. Something like "okay, but not great."

That is not a bad review, but not as good as one would expect, given that the author is famous.

This is known as "damning with faint praise."

  • Something ok but not great might not be what you favour, so it is indeed not favourable :) Who has the time to read all the books that aren't horrible? – rackandboneman Sep 23 '16 at 10:02

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