‘YOU scrub up nicely’ actually means ‘normally you look pretty shit’, recipients of the ‘compliment’ feel.
The Institute for Studies found that on closer examination the phrase suggested someone was grubby and unpleasant to look at most of the time.
Professor Henry Brubaker said: “On the surface it may seem like a compliment, but it’s actually what we lexicologists call a ‘bitchy backhanded smackdown’.
“If we break down the words used, ‘scrub’ implies that the rest of the time you are disgusting and unwashed. In fact so filthy you can’t just bathe or shower, but need to actively ‘scrub’.
“Nor is it a compliment about your current appearance. You scrub up ‘nicely’. Not ‘beautifully’ or ‘wonderfully’, but ‘nicely’.
“Nobody wants to be told they look ‘nice’. ‘It was nice’ is what you say to a friend who’s cooked you a meal when really you mean ‘bland and actually quite horrible’.”
Nikki Hollis, who recently received the compliment at a family gathering, said: “I’m devastated to hear that people think I’m usually hideous but can look sort of OK if I clean myself up.”