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  #1  
Old 04-24-2006, 10:41 AM
Cagey Drifter Cagey Drifter is offline
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Does "deceptively simple" mean something is simple or complex?

Every time I read the phrase "deceptively simple", I'm unsure what it means. Does it mean the object is simple or complex?
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  #2  
Old 04-24-2006, 10:45 AM
Cat Jones Cat Jones is offline
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The phrase is usually used with a verb such as 'looks' or 'sounds' "It looks deceptively simple" means you think it would be simple to do the action or acheive the same result but in reality it would be difficult.

eg A professional makes blowing glass look deceptively simple.
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  #3  
Old 04-24-2006, 10:45 AM
Martian Bigfoot Martian Bigfoot is offline
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I suspect that this question is... deceptively simple.
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  #4  
Old 04-24-2006, 11:05 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Jones
The phrase is usually used with a verb such as 'looks' or 'sounds' "It looks deceptively simple" means you think it would be simple to do the action or acheive the same result but in reality it would be difficult.

eg A professional makes blowing glass look deceptively simple.
Yep, that's the most common usage.

However, it can be used the other way round, to describe something which looks as if it would be tricky, but is actually... deceptively simple.
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  #5  
Old 04-24-2006, 12:23 PM
glee glee is offline
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I always expect it will be in the context of a skilled professional making a tricky task look easy.

I remember a game show where hapless contestants watched an expert in action once, then tried to repeat the feat.
The best one was a woman from a bicycle company, who changed a tyre in 45 seconds.
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  #6  
Old 04-24-2006, 02:33 PM
grimpixie grimpixie is offline
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Having recently been inducted into the world of baby carriers and prams - the first thing that came to my mind is the folding mechanism of a modern pram. Somewhere there is a lever/knob/catch that needs to be flipped/pushed/released, and the whole thing folds away into a matchbox, but until you learn the trick (i.e. the first 147 times) it is impossible to work out. And yet, once you learn the trick, its a doddle.

Deceptively simple.

Grim
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  #7  
Old 04-24-2006, 02:46 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cat Jones
The phrase is usually used with a verb such as 'looks' or 'sounds' "It looks deceptively simple" means you think it would be simple to do the action or acheive the same result but in reality it would be difficult.

eg A professional makes blowing glass look deceptively simple.
I disagree. The sentences "This looks simple, but isn't" and "This is deceptively simple" mean pretty much the same thing. So "looks deceptively simple" is redundant. The other alternative is an odd but literal interpretation meaning "At first glance it's simple, but as you look at it it's more complex, but further investigation shows you were right the first time." Or something like that.
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  #8  
Old 04-24-2006, 03:14 PM
Rigamarole Rigamarole is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rowrrbazzle
I disagree. The sentences "This looks simple, but isn't" and "This is deceptively simple" mean pretty much the same thing. So "looks deceptively simple" is redundant. The other alternative is an odd but literal interpretation meaning "At first glance it's simple, but as you look at it it's more complex, but further investigation shows you were right the first time." Or something like that.
I disagree with your disagreement.

Saying "this is deceptively simple" is just not as clear in meaning as "this looks deceptively simple"

The former sounds authoritative - as if you are asserting that it is indeed simple, with a modifier on simple that just makes that assertion confusing, while the latter makes it clear that the deception is due to it appearing simple (this looks ... simple), with a modifier that explains that it is not, in fact, simple.

I think you're just making this whole thing deceptively difficult.
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  #9  
Old 04-24-2006, 03:24 PM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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Some of the responses here refer to what I have always heard as making something look easy - not simple.

"Deceptively simple" refers to something which is indeed simple (not just looks or sounds simple), but which has an underlying complexity that isn't immediately obvious. An example would be the question "What is life?" It is a simple question. But it's deceptively simple in that the answer is not correspondingly simple, and can get tangled up in various complexities.
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  #10  
Old 04-24-2006, 05:07 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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I support Gary T. I have always understood the phrase to mean that the basics of an action or a question are, indeed, simple, but that the skill required or the meaning devceloped may require finesse beyond mere technique or understanding of a profound nature.
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  #11  
Old 04-25-2006, 01:56 PM
rowrrbazzle rowrrbazzle is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rigamarole
I think you're just making this whole thing deceptively difficult.
I think you're just making this whole thing look deceptively difficult.
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  #12  
Old 04-25-2006, 03:33 PM
KidScruffy KidScruffy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cagey Drifter
Every time I read the phrase "deceptively simple", I'm unsure what it means. Does it mean the object is simple or complex?
...and so another addition is made to my list of "phrases never to say for fear of confusing the issue"...

Back to the topic - I'd side with the view that "simple" refers to how the thing appears at first glance, although it's actually more complex.

--KidScruffy
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  #13  
Old 04-25-2006, 03:41 PM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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"Deceptively simple" describes a thing that is actually and truly simple, and deceives the viewer as to the level of complexity of a different thing. Most often, the simple thing will be the appearance of, or container of, the complex thing.

For example... the appearance of an i-Pod is deceptively simple because in reality an i-Pod is a highly-engineered, complex piece of machinery. The technique of a glassblower looks deceptively simple but is actually quite complex and practice. The envelope containing my income tax return is deceptively simple because the contents are maddeningly complex.
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  #14  
Old 04-25-2006, 04:20 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
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Nearly every post in this thread gives an example of the misuse of "deceptively simple"[/i].

An item that looks simple but is not isn't deceptively simple, it's deceptively complicated. (Or perhaps deceptively sophisticated, depending on how you're using "simple").

An example of something that truly is deceptively simple is the formula that generates the Mandelbrot set: z -> z^2 + c. You look at the incredible (apparent) complexity and beauty of the fractal and you do not think "oh, this is a graphical representation of a simple mathematical equation"; in fact, if you do not already know otherwise, you figure something like this must be generated by an amazingly sophisticated piece of source code incorporating bits of artificial intelligence and all kinds of context-dependent sensitivities and cascading clauses and whanot. But no, it is simple. Deceptively simple.


grimpixie's baby pram is an example of the deceptively complicated.
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  #15  
Old 04-25-2006, 04:31 PM
Rigamarole Rigamarole is offline
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So the consensus is, nobody really agrees what "deceptively simple" means.

I think we should just stop being deceptive altogether and say what we really mean.
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  #16  
Old 04-25-2006, 04:37 PM
Cagey Drifter Cagey Drifter is offline
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Yeah, it seems like there is enough confusion about this to render the phrase useless.
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  #17  
Old 04-25-2006, 06:24 PM
ouryL ouryL is offline
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Sometime that is deceptive is not what it seems, hence something deceptively simple is something that is not as simple as it seems.
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  #18  
Old 04-25-2006, 06:35 PM
gazpacho gazpacho is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ouryL
Sometime that is deceptive is not what it seems, hence something deceptively simple is something that is not as simple as it seems.
Which does not answer the question of the meaning of the phrase. Does it appear simple but is actually complex or does it appear complex but is actually simple? Both cases something is not a simple as it seems.
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  #19  
Old 04-25-2006, 08:46 PM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ouryL
Sometime that is deceptive is not what it seems, hence something deceptively simple is something that is not as simple as it seems.
That's not true. A deceptive thing may be exactly what it seems, but mislead you as to the nature of something else associated with it. Something that is "deceptively simple" is truly simple, but this simplicity may mislead the observer into making false assumptions about the complexity of other things associated with it.

My canonical example is the envelope your 1040 tax forms come in. The envelope is simple, and deceptively so, because it holds no clue as to the morass of complexity it holds within.

Key to this understanding: simple should not be equated with "easy", and the appearance of a thing should not be regarded as equivalent to the thing itself.
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  #20  
Old 04-26-2006, 02:04 AM
Ellis Aponte Jr. Ellis Aponte Jr. is offline
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I concur with Brain Wreck. You wouldn't call a smart person with a dumb facial expression "deceptively stupid." But you might say they have a "deceptively dim-witted grin" or somesuch.
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  #21  
Old 04-26-2006, 09:02 AM
Sunrazor Sunrazor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rigamarole
So the consensus is, nobody really agrees what "deceptively simple" means. I think we should just stop being deceptive altogether and say what we really mean.
We got into this discussion in a class on language pedagogy I took recently for my graduate work in English (we also spiritedly discussed the conundrum of reach exceeding grasp or vice-versa.) We came to the conclusion that most cliches are defined by the context in which they're used. If someone writes that glassblowing is deceptively simple, they will proceed to describe the process of glassblowing and let the reader decide what it means.

If you diagram the sentence, "Glassblowing is deceptively simple," "glassblowing" is the subject, "is" is the passive verb and "simple" is nothing more than an adjective describing "glassblowing." (There is no direct object.) Thus, glassblowing is simple. "Deceptively" is an adverb that further defines "simple," but doesn't change its definition; ergo, glassblowing is simple, and deceptively so. In theory, you should be able to drop the adverb without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Colophon is right -- it's one of those phrases that can mean two opposite things, depending on context.
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  #22  
Old 04-26-2006, 06:29 PM
HMS Irruncible HMS Irruncible is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffrice
If you diagram the sentence, "Glassblowing is deceptively simple," "glassblowing" is the subject, "is" is the passive verb and "simple" is nothing more than an adjective describing "glassblowing." (There is no direct object.) Thus, glassblowing is simple. "Deceptively" is an adverb that further defines "simple," but doesn't change its definition; ergo, glassblowing is simple, and deceptively so. In theory, you should be able to drop the adverb without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Precisely! If you say it's simple, it's simple, "deceptively" or otherwise. But if it's "deceptively" simple... it still is truly simple, but somehow the simplicity misleads the observer.

I'll go out on a limb and say that 9 times out of 10, when you say something "is deceptively simple", what you really mean is "its appearance is deceptively simple." Or some other superficial attribute of the thing is deceptively simple. Not the essence of the thing itself.
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