Via you-know-who

by on August 11, 2009 at 1:18 am in Games | Permalink

There is strategy involved in giving and interpreting compliments. 
Let’s say you hear someone play a difficult –but not too difficult–
piece on the piano, and she plays it well.  Is it a compliment if you
tell her she played it beautifully?

That depends.  You would not be impressed by the not-so-difficult
piece if you knew that she was an outstanding pianist.  So if you tell
her you are impressed, then you are telling her that you don’t think
she is an outstanding pianist.  And if she is, or aspires to be, an
outstanding pianist, then your attempted compliment is in fact an

This means that, in most cases, the best way to compliment the
highly accomplished is not to offer any compliment at all.  This
conveys that all of her fine accomplishments are exactly what you
expected of her.  But, do wait for when she really outdoes herself and
then tell her so.  You don’t want her to think that you are someone who
just never gives compliments.  Once that is taken care of, she will
know how to properly interpret your usual silence.

In the world of blogs, when you comment on an article on another
blog, it is usually a nice compliment to provide a link to the original
post.  This is a compliment because it tells your readers that the
other blog is worth visiting and reading.  But you may have noticed
that discussions of the really well-known blogs don’t come with links. 
For example, when I comment on an article posted at a blog like
Marginal Revolution, I usually write merely “via MR, …” with no link.

That’s the best way to compliment a blog that is, or aspires to be,
really well-known. It proves that you know that your readers already
know the blog in question, know how to get there, and indeed have
probably already read and pondered the article being discussed.

Pretty excellent, no?

Addendum: An explanation, from the one you would expect.

1 Doc Merlin August 11, 2009 at 1:27 am

In my experience this applies to attractive american women.
The worst thing a guy can do is directly compliment an attractive american woman.
I’m not exactly sure why this is.

2 Jeff Peterson August 11, 2009 at 1:40 am

No, because here the compliment is reduced to a status-marking transaction, which fails to focus attention (one’s own, the artist’s, and any bystanders’) on the beauty of the piece played and the human effort involved in producing it. In the example, I’d think something along the lines of “That was lovely” (assuming it wasn’t a performance of 4′ 33″) would be the minimum appropriate recognition.

3 Daniel Reeves August 11, 2009 at 1:56 am

Problems: 1) Marginal Revolution’s popularity is quantitative.

2) It only inconveniences and, therefore, alienates readers not familiar with the blog not being linked to.

I’ll give him props for one thing: this is a good strategy if you want to keep certain people away from your blog. I think if Krugman wrote more “wonkish” posts and explained things less lucidly than he normally does, the atrocious comment section in his blog would greatly improve.

Another example: at tailgate parties, my friend uses the music blasting through his car speakers to control the kinds of people hanging around his vehicle.

But all in all, I think the costs outweigh the benefits.

4 Natural Violator August 11, 2009 at 2:02 am
5 stanfo August 11, 2009 at 2:15 am

Hahahaha this made me smile. There are few people who are obviously the author after a sentence.

6 Alex August 11, 2009 at 2:52 am

In addition to being the best compliment, it’s also annoying for those who read…

Linking is a good thing.

7 Bob Meade August 11, 2009 at 3:08 am

Sincerity is key.

To withhold a sincere compliment when it is deserved is mean. To withhold a sincere compliment when it is sought or welcomed is to be manipulative.

To offer a compliment which is insincere is a lie.

Not all sincere comliments are welcomed, and as has been pointed out it can be very difficult to tell if one will be welcomed; but the honor is in the giving.

Women here in Australia don’t seem to have a problem being called beautiful.

8 Adi @ The Management Blog August 11, 2009 at 4:16 am

Plus of course linking is a nice way to give some thanks in the search engine world too, which still relies heavily on this form of recommending other sites to determine rankings.

9 James August 11, 2009 at 5:31 am

I have no idea who wrote the comment quote in the post, but he or she gets it wrong at every step.

Unless the pianist is your student or you’re a professional critic, it’s not your place to grant your approval of their playing, and doing so is rude. So anyone would be offended. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to say you enjoyed her playing. Lo and behold, that is something no one would be offended by, no matter how good a player she is.

Regarding blog citing, pretty much everyone has heard of the New York Times. If you quoted an article there, would you not also link to it? Of course you would, if you are responsible and want to make you blog one people want to read. This applies even more to blogs less well known than the New York Times: in other words, all of them.

What planet is the original poster on?

10 Chi August 11, 2009 at 7:09 am

I don’t believe the part about not linking for a second. And I’d say Hanson too but the only asshole I know big enough to not link and game that is Chris Masse.

11 anon August 11, 2009 at 8:05 am

There is strategy involved in giving and interpreting compliments. Let’s say you hear someone play a difficult –but not too difficult– piece on the piano, and she plays it well. Is it a compliment if you tell her she played it beautifully?

As a soccer dad, I long ago took some wise advice and do not comment on the quality of my child’s soccer (and piano) playing, but rather say, “I enjoyed watching (hearing) you play.” And it was, and still is, always the truth.

As for worrying about what attractive women think or want to need to hear – who cares? One of the major benefits of getting older as a male is that I can now call every female I deal with “dear” and ninety-plus % smile when I say it. I do not know why or when I started doing this, but it seemed to happen spontaneously. However, I always mean it.

btw – see “The 6 Things a Soccer Mom [or Dad] Should Say to Her [His] Youth Soccer Player“:

For best results, parents should memorize and use the following 6 phrases to say to their youth soccer player:

Before the Match
1. I love you!
2. Good luck!
3. Have fun!

After the Match
4. I love you!
5. It was great to see you play!
6. What would you like to eat?

12 Tyler Cowen August 11, 2009 at 8:12 am

Hey people, don’t complain, I’m just following orders from the poster. I was told not to link to it. And it’s not Robin Hanson.

13 The Epicurean Dealmaker August 11, 2009 at 8:25 am

No, Tyler, this idea is not excellent. It is hermetic, elitist, and obnoxious. Thank you, however, for acceding to the author’s wishes and not linking back to its site. Based on this sample, I am glad to have saved the five minutes I would have wasted there.

14 Jens Fiederer August 11, 2009 at 8:56 am

Some of that’s true, some of it’s silly.

Even though I visit MR every day, I STILL prefer to see the link; and I would NEVER assume that everybody already knows how to find it: my mom, on rare occasions, visits my page.

Although I’d say it’s OK to leave the link out if you are not referring to a specific post and you already have a link to the site on the same page, or close to it.

15 a August 11, 2009 at 9:08 am

“It’s not Robin Hansen.”

I guess I owe Robin an apology. I assumed it had to be him, but I didn’t want to encourage such nonsense by going to his blog to check. But now I’m completely mystified as to who else would come up with such silliness.

16 Candadai Tirumalai August 11, 2009 at 9:28 am

You can look a compliment without articulating
it: easier to do in life than in cyberspace.

17 Jacob August 11, 2009 at 10:05 am

As a pianist, I have to ask Tyler what he means by the rather ambiguous term “easy piece”.

What is an “easy piece”? Technically easy? Interpretatively easy?

Suppose you heard Ignaz Friedman play a Chopin Mazurka / Waltz / other small and technically easy piece (lucky you!). Would he be insulted by a layperson telling him it was the best performance they had ever heard? I strongly doubt he would reply, in offended tones “hey, you should hear how I play the etudes…I can play *way* better than this!”. Although Friedman undoubtedly possessed the technical equipment capable of handling pieces far more complex and technically difficult pieces than Mazurkas, he nonetheless played these technically simple pieces in a revelatory and inspirational manner — undoubtedly a huge accomplishment in the history of interpretative pianist (in my opinion, only Horowitz, Rubinstein, Rosenthal are comparable in this repertoire.)

If Friedman played the “knuckle song”, and had his audience swoon, then perhaps he would be embarassed for them! Most professional pianists are quite selective about what they play around other musicians and even around laypeople.

18 David Pinto August 11, 2009 at 10:22 am

It’s an insult not to link to the blog. The web is about linking. You may know who it is, but the web judges importance on links.

19 Matthew August 11, 2009 at 10:39 am

I agree that strategy or thoughtful diliberation is in order but not the stinginess that Tyler and the concealed party recommend. Insecurity is such a general condition even among the very talented that over-expression should be the preferred mistake. If an artist seeks to touch hearts then no expression that such has occurred can be spurned. If her desire is merely to execute a musical task according to instructions then I pity her for being less an artist than a laborer at the piano.

A complement is an act of grace; it should be given and received in that spirit.

I recommend the following on a broader but related topic from John Adams:
“There are persons whom in my heart I despise; others I abhor. Yet I am not obliged to inform the one of my contempt, nor the other of my detestation. This kind of dissimulation, which is no more than concealment, secrecy, and reserve, or in other words, prudence and discretion, is a necessary branch of wisdom, and so far from being immoral and unlawful, that it is a duty and a virtue. Yet even this must be understood with certain limitations, for there are times when the cause of religion, of government, of liberty, the interest of the present age and of posterity, render it a necessary duty for a man to make known his sentiments and intentions boldly and publicly; so that it is difficult to establish any certain rule, to determine what things a man may, and what he may not lawfully conceal, and when. But it is no doubt clear, that there are many things which may lawfully be concealed from many persons at certain times, and on the other hand, there are things, which at certain times, it becomes mean and selfish, base and wicked, to conceal from some persons.”

20 ben August 11, 2009 at 11:22 am

This post was acceptable.

21 anon August 11, 2009 at 11:42 am

No, definitely not the world’s most obnoxious blogger

22 Zbicyclist August 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Mommy! Highgamma’s creating a hostile blogging environment! Make him stop!

23 Allison August 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm

I’m glad I’m not your or the original author’s wife. I’m just as glad that neither you nor they are my boss.

24 MR August 12, 2009 at 1:43 am

I work as a translator in Japan. Often when I say “hello” to someone in Japanese for the first time, they look at my skin colour and say “Wow your Japanese is very good”.
They mean this as a compliment, however, it leaves me with a bad feeling. I worked hard for many years to get to the level where I am now, and that compliment belittled my effort.
So I agree completely with this post. I am the happiest when I recieve no compliment at all, but am just treated as a native speaker.
The real difficulty is knowing whether or not that person is accomplished in the field or not. I would say, the worse they are, the more compliments they should get.

25 Randall Parker August 16, 2009 at 9:29 pm

No links? “you-know-who”? Pretty stupid. No link costs time to the readers. It is especially costly to those who don’t know who the hell you are talking about (e.g. I don’t in this case). It is also costly to those who view your page as a result of a Google search who can’t go find the original post at the top of the blog you are referring to. Now they’ve got to paste text into Google Search and try to find it that way.

One really can try to be too clever. This seems a frequent problem with academics. They need more real world problems to solve so that they do not sink into liking customer-unfriendly nonsense.

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