Quote: "The student works to the best of his ability." Common teacher recommendation for college applicants, according to admissions officers in USA Today.
Figure of Speech: ennoia (en NOY a), the figure of faint praise.
According to USA Today, more than a tenth of teacher recommendations damn applicants through faint praise. They employ the ennoia (Greek for "hidden intention"). The figure gets frequent exercise in our wimpy, argument-averse culture. "Thirty years ago, a letter might have said that Johnny is not a nice person," says Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, "whereas today the letter might say that Johnny does not have many friends."
Snappy Answer: "Thank you for your candor."