10

Example:

Joe's presentation about the techniques of sharing code between the web and native version of an app was interesting.

Can the word "interesting" have a negative meaning in this context?

When I read this sentence I could think of two meaning, one is where the presentation was a good one, and I was interested in the topic, so I have found the presentation interesting.

The other would mean something like the talk was confusing and I couldn't understand it so the presentation was "interesting...".

If it can have a negative meaning then is there any synonym what only have a positive meaning?

31

Yes. In spoken English, you can tell the connotation of "interesting" by the inflection used. If the word is distinctly separated from the rest of the sentence, there is a meaning often more important than that actual word.

It is frequently a mild pejorative but you have to see and hear the speaker to understand the context.

When written, it would appear like:

Well, that's...interesting.

  • 5
    In US, I see it most often used when someone wants to rate a subject negatively, but uses the word "interesting" to avoid potentially negative consequences if overheard. For example, "Yeah, I also found the boss's presentation....interesting..." – JS. Jul 11 '16 at 22:15
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    You could do this for other words, not just interesting. For example, "Well, that's...nice" or "Well, that's...great" – Kodos Johnson Jul 11 '16 at 23:57
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    Might be worth adding that if you read the quote as it was quoted, the word would have the bland meaning of literally being "interesting." To make it negative, as you say at the end, it needs some markers of inflection. – T.J. Crowder Jul 12 '16 at 16:47
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    There is a joke about an "Ancient Chinese Adage" (which apparently doesn't come from China...) along the lines of a curse: "May you live in interesting times." (Interesting times being famines, floods, wars...) Or, as my dad says, you never want an interesting plane flight. – Ghotir Jul 12 '16 at 17:39
  • There's also the observation (commonly found in movies) that "things are about to get interesting", or "if [something] happens then things will get interesting", meaning that the situation is about to become difficult. – anaximander Jul 13 '16 at 10:33
17

"Interesting" can be used negatively if said sarcastically. In speech, at least, you'd usually be able to tell it was used sarcastically by a change of tone or through a pause:

His delivery of the presentation was... interesting...

This wouldn't necessarily mean his delivery was bad, it could just be odd – maybe he spoke with an unusual cadence, or maybe his presentation wasn't appropriate for the setting (gaudy animations in a meeting of company directors, perhaps).


As for an alternate term or phrase, you could say:

Joe's presentation really catered to my interests.

You could also call it fascinating or engrossing depending on how good and how interesting you found the presentation.

  • 4
    +1 for the only answer (yet) to mention sarcasm (which seems to be the key here). Although I would say that you could just as easily use sarcasm for your alternative phrases: "Joe's presentation really ... catered ... to my interests", or "Joe's presentation really 'catered' to my interests" both seem to indicate that I was not interested in Joe's presentation at all. It's the context, or the ..., or the ', that matter here. – Guy Schalnat Jul 11 '16 at 17:10
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    Is it sarcasm? I thought that the negative "interesting" was an example of "damning with faint praise." – Dane Jul 11 '16 at 19:17
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    @Dane, I suppose it could be both, but figuring out which it is would rely on the tone of voice. I would expect sarcasm to be more common, since if you were to damn with faint praise you'd have many other options to choose from (it was: alright, okay, not bad, in-depth, detailed, better than I expected, as I expected, etc.). – LMS Jul 11 '16 at 19:29
  • I don't think this is necessarily an example of sarcasm. I think when we use "interesting" negatively we're trying to insinuate that it was interesting through its bizarrity and weirdness, rather than being interesting for the reason the presenter had intended. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 11 '16 at 22:48
9

You're right, it can have negative/neutral connotation. I think I more relatable example would be when people try new foods from different cultures, like bugs. One might say

I tried crickets yesterday. It was interesting.

In text, the context suggests that "interesting" implies that the experience might have been unpleasant. When spoken, there is usually a pause, a change in tone or inflection between "was" and "interesting" to imply that an experience was unpleasant. It can also imply that something was mediocre.

So, in your example, in your experience, if the context does not suggest that it was bad or mediocre, then you should not believe that "interesting" has a negative meaning. If in your experience, such a presentation was like likely to be bad or mediocre, then you would have reason to suspect that such a presentation was "interesting", in the negative sense.

Words that do not have such negative meanings would include

  1. engaging
    : very attractive or pleasing in a way that holds your attention
  2. captivating
    : to attract and hold the attention of (someone) by being interesting, pretty, etc.

among others.

  • In the game Space Quest 6, if you clicked something that made no sense, the game would speak and say "That is a very interesting idea... not a good one, but interesting nonetheless." as if to insult you, that nobody would ever think to try what you did. :) – Peter Jul 12 '16 at 9:46
  • @Peter - How is that even interpreted as an insult? What strange creatures. – mathreadler Jul 12 '16 at 12:06
  • Why was my answer and its comment moved to comments on this definitely unrelated answer? Some moderators are strange creatures. – Peter Jul 13 '16 at 9:26
7

The word "interesting" can often be used to describe something that wasn't nice.

I know several other answers seem to say that, but, in my opinion, they tend to be describing (slightly, or very) different reasons why.

Let me show you an example of why "interesting" has often become a bit of a negative word.

A parent says to a child: Did you like the coconut cake your grandparent made?
Child's reply: It was interesting.

The reason that answer actually sounds rather bad is because the child could have said:

I really liked it a lot! I thought cakes always had a very sugary flavor. I didn't know that coconuts could be used in cakes. I'd like the recipe so I could know how to make it myself.

(Very positive words are okay to say.)

The child could not have said:

What an awful idea. I hope I never have to put such an awful thing into my mouth ever again!

(Doing so would have been quite rude, and the child should certainly not say that, especially in front of the cook.)

The word "interesting" has become known as "the answer that you can politely give when you really do not want to compliment something because you don't like it, but you want to try to not be rude by saying anything too negative." People have learned that the word "interesting" is often meant to describe something undesirable, but that the person doesn't want to say anything that will sound very impolite when quoted.

By choosing a rather neutral word to describe something that most people have stronger feelings for (like a taste), people often assume an intentional effort to avoid making a stronger answer.

In theory, this technique could actually be used in the opposite way, to avoid complimenting something that is actually good. If I am in a group of people, maybe I don't want to be polite to a friend by not saying something good about a product made by a competitor. So, instead of being rude (to my friend) by saying something nice (about a known competitor) in front of other people, I choose something that sounds rather neutral. In that case, saying something negative might have been more appropriate, but my choice to remain neutral indicated a reluctance to say something negative. Therefore, if I used the word "interesting", that might have been a relatively positive choice compared to what else I might have chosen to say.

That's an unusual example, though, because most people generally like to say very positive things when they have a reason to.

Sometimes, I have used the word "interesting" to describe something that actually fascinated me a bit. That is an entirely appropriate way to use the word. However, when I use the word like this (which is absolutely the most straight-forward meaning), I have sometimes felt the need to clarify: "It was interesting. And, I do mean that. I did really find that to be actually interesting." If I don't clarify, I have sometimes had people ask me for clarification. So, using the word "interesting" to mean "not great" has become quite common.

Side note: the word "different" has also frequently been used in the same way. "That coconut cake was... different." "Unusual" is another word that has been used that way. "Unique" has also been used that way.

5

In British English, 'interesting' can be a criticism. Here is an article that (part in humour) presents a translation table of British English to other English as spoken by 'foreigners' (here meaning non-British speakers). The relevant entry for 'interesting' is:

What the British say: Very interesting
What the British mean: That is clearly nonsense
What foreigners understand: They are impressed

0

It depends on the culture. In the US, where I'm from, "interesting" can have negative connotations (as pointed out by others). But in Uganda, where I live now, "interesting" is always positive. One of the many small adjustments I've had to make to the way I speak English since I've moved here...

0

Interesting is a very neutral word. It implies that something caught and held your attention, without saying what that thing was, or whether it was good or bad. It usually indicates mild interest, not extreme interest.

In an informative tech presentation, it is probably a good thing. A tech presentation could be dull, irrelevant, or confusing. Interesting is likely a mild compliment that suggests it was useful and presented well; you want a tech talk to be interesting!

Interesting may indicate disagreement or alarm. The listener feels the reasoning or information was flawed; or they heard or inferred some unpleasant fact; or they are skeptical of some claim. An example is when the manager announces budget targets for the upcoming year, and someone finds it "interesting" because it implies a layoff is needed to meet that budget.

Interesting can be a sly sarcastic comment that would not be noticed by managers or the presenter, but the writer's friends might be quietly smiling at some inside joke. Sarcastic usage is common, and often is not done in an obvious way.

Interesting sometimes means there is a story behind something. It is either a foreshadow that you are about to say what was interesting, or an invitation to ask about it. "My date with Susan was interesting." "Interesting?" "I spilled my food in my lap, accidentally insulted her religion, and that's when her boyfriend showed up."

Interesting can be used noncommittally to avoid saying something bad. "Do you like these shoes?" "They're interesting." It's not a compliment but also not an insult. It suggests you gave something a fair try and weren't convinced.

Interesting always begs a question. What was interesting? Answer that and you'll know if it was good or bad or something else.

As for synonyms, interesting is a very common everyday sort of word. There are some synonyms like fascinating or captivating, but these indicated higher levels of interest and perhaps a sort of submission. Interesting implies a more moderate and thoughtfully skeptical level of interest. I rarely read anything into it, and almost always have to ask a clarifying question. In fact the question is often expected, and if I fail to ask, the person may pointedly ask me "aren't you curious about why that was interesting?"

So I guess my answer on synonyms is that, the best "synonym" is a more specific adjective or longer explanation. Was the tech presentation good, funny, informative, timely, disturbing, helpful, stupid, lively, relevant, non-tedious, titillating (yikes), or surprising? Interesting could mean any or these, or more than one, or something else altogether.

  • It would be more interesting if he spilled his food in her lap. – pabrams Jul 12 '16 at 20:55
0

The word "interesting" is inherently neither negative nor positive. It means to arouse curiosity or interest, which people often associate with positive feelings, but to say something is interesting says nothing about whether it is good or bad. People often use the word interesting to describe something when they have nothing specifically good to say about it, but don't want to say anything explicitly bad. Over time, this has resulted in the negative connotation.

protected by J.R. Apr 6 at 19:02

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