This often happens in every culture but I think it happens more in Western countries.

That is when you socialize with your friends, you often gush about their things.

For example, you saw your friend wearing a new dress. In your head, you think "what an ugly dress you're wearing". But you don't say exactly what you think in your head. Instead, you lie about it by saying "Wow, what a nice dress you're wearing!".

If I translate from my mother tongue to English, it'll be "I gave a sociable compliment on her dress" to mean I gave a compliment just to make her feel happy but my compliment didn't mean exactly what I mean or it was just a fake compliment!

Do you say "give a sociable compliment" when you mean you give a compliment as a way to socialize with people but it's not a true praise?

Note: In English, we have "a white lie" which is a lie that stops someone from being upset by the truth

Can we say it "a white compliment"?

  • 9
    No, the expression doesn't exist in English. (If I thought a friend's dress was ugly, I would avoid making any comment rather than praising it insincerely!) Feb 21 at 9:37
  • "I was just being sociable when I complimented her dress."
    – TimR
    Feb 21 at 12:27
  • What we say when we are with the person to whom we are speaking about another person is: to "give a compliment" using air quotes. You might want to look up air quotes. white lie does not work here.
    – Lambie
    Feb 21 at 17:49
  • 2
    Another phrase used is "polite fiction," which is a statement that the hearers may well recognize as untrue, but they tolerate it in order to avoid awkwardness. But it's not specifically about compliments.
    – LarsH
    Feb 21 at 18:59
  • @KateBunting Precisely. And if we really have to say something, we'd use a more neutral term, like "interesting" or "fascinating"
    – No Name
    Feb 22 at 17:00

4 Answers 4


White lie, or "flattery" (if the intention is to influence or deceive). Or "Just being friendly and/pr polite".

The other suggestions are not idiomatic.

  • 4
    My wife: why did you say my mother looked nice in her striped frock? She looks hideous! Me: I was being polite. Feb 21 at 11:35
  • 2
    I would view "flattery" a little differently from just being polite. "Being polite" might be just a way to avoid conflict or offense without trying to actually deceive, whereas "flattery" can mean trying to manipulate someone by deception, into being favorably disposed toward you. Granted, "flattery" can also be used (often humorously) to refer to polite compliments even when the hearer knows they're not true.
    – LarsH
    Feb 21 at 15:00
  • 1
    Telling someone their dress is pretty when it isn't is not really "a lie".
    – Lambie
    Feb 21 at 17:52
  • 5
    @Lambie Sure it is. That's the textbook definition of a white lie.
    – A. R.
    Feb 21 at 21:04
  • 2
    @MichaelHarvey 's suggestion of "I was just being polite" is by far the most idiomatic, bravo.
    – Fattie
    Feb 22 at 22:13

In formal gatherings, when people do not know each other, they tend to avoid awkward silences in some way. Paying a compliment on someone's appearance is an ice-breaker, and, if sincere, can help the conversation flow.

When two strangers talk about the weather, the organiser of the event, the food being served etc. they are exchanging pleasantries. If I compliment someone on their attire even though I wouldn't wear it myself, I am being courteous (as James's answer says) and diplomatic. Often the speaker is struggling to find–at that moment–something positive to say.

If the person being flattered or complimented has a position of power or influence then the person who is gushing with praise can be called a sycophant. It's definitely not a compliment.

someone who praises powerful or rich people in a way that is not sincere, usually in order to get some advantage from them:
“Sycophants will rise to the top if a team is discouraged from giving frank opinions.”
Cambridge Dictionary

What do you call a compliment that clearly contradicts the speaker's personal opinion? Sarcasm would be appropriate here, or otherwise servile flattery might do.

too eager to serve and please someone else in a way that shows you do not have much respect for yourself:
“As a waiter you want to be pleasant to people without appearing totally servile.”
Cambridge Dictionary


For cases where people say thing things that sound nice to say, without actually following through, or without truly believing what they say, instead saying it for the ceremony of saying it; then "paying lip service" applies here.


lip service - noun
an avowal of advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds (usually used with "pay")

  • This is true, but it's not usually used in the context that the OP asked about, namely, complimenting someone (e.g. on their dress).
    – LarsH
    Feb 22 at 12:29
  • I feel this is better than the other answers.
    – Fattie
    Feb 22 at 22:14
  • @LarsH: If the compliment is given because it's the sociable thing to do rather than because it's a genuine outburst; then it is paying lip service.
    – Flater
    Feb 22 at 22:39

To actually answer the questions asked,

Do you say "give a sociable compliment" ..

No. No English speaker has ever utter the four words "give a sociable compliment".

Can we say it "a white compliment"?

No. The phrase has never been used in English. Note - it does not sound like a "clever extension" to the well-known phrase, it sounds like a non-English speaker.

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