What does the word "deceptively" mean to you?

If I said a pool of water was “deceptively shallow” would you think I was saying it was more shallow than it appears or less?

More shallow than it appears.

Agreed. “Deceptively” is a modifier on “shallow” - the water is shallow, but deceptively so because it looks like it’s deeper.

I think we’ve had this question before, but using a task being “deceptively easy”.

Ah, but “deceptively calm” means “appears calm, but is actually very angry indeed”. So in this case, deceptively means “not as [adjective] as appears”.


I would think it looked shallow but was actually deep.

I think it makes no sense as a whole, it sounds like a fragment. It sounds like it actually is shallow but there is some other kind of danger being hidden by the shallowness - only, that second fragment of information is missing.

If you referred to a person rather than to water, I would think it’s someone who plays shallow but actually isn’t. Think MM’s character in “Gentlemen prefer blondes” (she gets her rich fiancé’s outraged father to accept her after proving to him that she’s actually smart: she plays dumb because that’s what she must do in order to get what she wants).

Because deceptively ____ can be interpreted either way.

Thefreedictionary.com states, “When deceptively is used to modify an adjective, the meaning is often unclear.”

The question of “deceptively shallow” is addressed:

Google gave a lot of results for “deceptively delicious”, referring to healthy food that tastes good. The food would indeed be delicious, but the purpose of the deliciousness is to deceive children into heating healthy food.

Interesting question, Quimby.

It reminds me of this Language Log post on reverse sarcasm, in the sense that it seems more likely that “deceptively X” is interpreted in whichever sense is more negative.

For instance, if I heard that a swimming pool was “deceptively shallow”, I would think that it’s dangerous to dive there because it’s so shallow, whereas if I heard that a mud puddle was “deceptively shallow”, I would think that it’s dangerous to step into because it’s deeper than it appears.

Of course, that doesn’t explain “deceptively delicious”, which just sounds weird to me.

I would think you were using the word “deceptively” inappropriately. To me, that word applies to appearances. So, for example, if you said “The water appeared deceptively shallow” I would assume that it was in fact deeper than it appeared to be. The sentence “The water was deceptively shallow” just sounds wrong to me… as though you were trying to say it actually was shallower than it actually was. I guess it would suggest to me that the shallowness of the water might deceive people into thinking it was less *dangerous *than it actually was.