Is “that's an interesting idea” necessarily an encouraging or approving expression in English? Can it be a negative or disapproving comment?

(Maybe some examples would be nice.)

  • 2
    In BrE it's often a cliched euphemism for "That's a totally stupid idea, but I'm too polite to spell it out for you." But this is a matter of culture and social mores, not English language as such. Nov 13 '13 at 3:05
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    @FumbleFingers Yep, it can be the same in AmE. Depends a lot on tone of voice and context, too. "We should put blue mousetraps on the moon!" "Oh... That's an interesting idea..." vs "We should do [x] to improve company revenue." "Huh. That's an interesting idea!" Tone and body language say a lot. If it's written, you'd have to figure it out from context.
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 13 '13 at 3:09
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    (Also denny, please include your entire question in the question body. Descriptive titles are good, but when you're writing the question body pretend the title isn't there and add all relevant information accordingly. :))
    – WendiKidd
    Nov 13 '13 at 3:11
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    FWIW, according to NGrams, about 1 in every 300 instances of a good idea are followed by but.... Nov 13 '13 at 3:16
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    ...with an interesting idea it's 1 in 50. So interesting ideas are six times more likely to attract criticism than good ones. Nov 13 '13 at 3:17

If completely isolated and out of context, the phrase "That's an interesting idea" may indicate very mild approval, but no commitment to do anything specifically with said idea.

While it can be used sarcastically, almost any statement of approval could also do the same. Picture your boss saying "That is a fantastic idea!" followed by them rolling their eyes. That would definitely indicate they did not believe the idea was fantastic at all.

On the other hand, if followed-up with any comments on how they may proceed to use the idea, that is a firm indicator of approval and acceptance. For example: "That's an interesting idea, let's discuss it over lunch." would very likely indicate some genuine interest.

I hope this helps.

  • 1
    Similarly, if said with enthusiasm, "That's an interesting idea!" definitely sounds approving, while "That's an ... interesting idea" definitely does not. It's all about tone and context.
    – nxx
    Jan 15 '14 at 17:07

It's not necessary. Let's take a case.

If I'm a manager and listening to several opinions about how to increase the sales in my business, I may call Tom's idea an interesting one (because I never thought of it) but then Harry's idea is what exactly I sought for. Making this clearer, how do I politely say if I want to implement Harry's idea and dropping Tom's?

> "Interesting idea, Tom. It'll certainly boost our revenue. But then we'll prefer Harry's because it also covers market risks".

Interesting idea is certainly encouraging because it interests you but not an necessarily approving expression. Here, Tom will be encouraged and will include risks next time when he comes up with an idea!

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    I would say this is still expressing approval. It's certainly not "negative or disapproving." On the other hand, if the manager thought that Tom's idea was pure foolishness (let's say it was unfeasible), but didn't want to embarrass Tom by calling his idea "stupid," the manager might say, "That's an interesting idea, Tom... Anyone else?" This doesn't express disapproval directly, but hints at the underlying negative feelings of the manager.
    – J.R.
    Nov 13 '13 at 13:41
  • @J.R. You got it; post it. Dec 21 '13 at 19:17

Small pause before interesting madness it a damning indictment of said idea, hey Tom, that's an...... Interesting idea, whereas now Tom n THAT'S an interesting idea would mean more FINALLY someone gets the dirt of ideas I'm looking for.

Emphasis and timing is as important as context.

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