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I wrote:

I can't call the following riddle a standard one with a certain answer but it's not that bad.

A native speaker said to me that he can't get "it's not that bad" part. Is it ambiguous? Maybe I should have said "it's is not too bad", but in general I use "not that bad" after I have criticized something and I want to make the situation better. For example, "her cooking isn't good, but it's not that bad, it's worth to taste....".

If it is an improper usage, then what can I say instead?

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  • Seems understandable to me. I would probably reword as "I wouldn't call the following a standard riddle with a definite answer, but it's not that bad."
    – D. Nelson
    Dec 15, 2016 at 6:51

2 Answers 2

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Your phrase is understandable and often used.

The phrases

it's not that bad
it's not so bad
it's not too bad

usually get used to take the sting out of criticism, however, when spoken if the qualifier is stressed it might be understood to be sarcastic

I guess it's not toooo bad.
It's not sooooo bad.

meaning "it's horrible".

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It is ambiguous because no reference is given for comparison. For example, I might say "The low temperature yesterday was 10 below, but today it won't be THAT low." Here THAT refers clearly to yesterday's low temperature.

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    No. You're right that that can be used in the way you're saying, as anaphora for something being compared; but you're ignoring a related but different use of that in a negative polarity context meaning the same as very or too, as Peter describes in his answer.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 1, 2020 at 19:20

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