"I am flattered'

I am always puzzled by the use of the expression "I am flattered". To flatter someone is, in most cases, to praise her insincerely and excessively for gain or advantage; sometimes the praise can be both sincere and true, but the motivation for gain or advantage is still there, which is why flattering is still not a decent thing to do in such cases. Accordingly, if we say of a person A that she flattered another person B, we are giving a negative evaluation of A.

Suppose I was B and A praised me. Now if I responded to A by saying "I am flattered", I would not be giving a negative evaluation of A. But why? Isn't it the same fact that was being expressed when I said "I am flattered" and when a third person said "A flattered B"?

One possible explanation is that when a person says "I am flattered", she is trying to be modest, that is, what she means is "You are praising me too much". This is not, however, a completely satisfying explanation, for "praising someone too much" does not seem to mean the same as "flattering someone".


  1. I have a similar problem with 溢美。 To me, it carries a negative connotation, until I read this:http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/template/apple_sub/art_main.php?iss_id=20100522&sec_id=12187389&art_id=14055027

  2. I was not able to see the article you referred to because it is for subscribers only. Thanks anyway.

  3. Just found the article here: http://hknews.rabbitholecompany.com/art_main.php?iss_id=20100522&sec_id=12187389&art_id=14055027

  4. In short, Tao Kit 陶傑 quoted a poem written by 杜甫 in praise of 李白 and said that it was "句句溢美之詞,感人肺俯", etc.
    Interestingly enough, I just read a little sentence from yahoo (US) describing Katie Holme as wearing some "non-flattering" clothes-baggy jeans, etc. Presumably those clothes did not make her look good. So "flattering" is definitely positive here.

  5. A little correction:it is Katie Holmes and the exact term used is "not-so-flattering ensemble".

  6. I dare not to pretend I grasp the essence of these vocabularies completely, but I was under the impression that with "I'm flattered" 是受用,但暗示那讚美不完全是事實.英文很多時一字多解,有時在某些用法(比方說自稱,是不是好像中文的寒舍,之類?)可能跟第三者描述意不盡同.
    作為transitive verb, 似乎是有點奉承的味道.