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Deceptively simple

Posted by Michael on August 13, 2008 at 21:43

In Reply to: Deceptively simple posted by Smokey Stover on August 05, 2008 at 01:43:

: : : I have heard people use the phrase "deceptively simple" in situations that seem to have opposite meanings. Is it supposed to refer to something that is more complex than it appears on the surface, or something that appears complex but is actually simple?

: : I have understood it to mean simple on the surface but actually quite complex. But I just asked a passer-by and he thought the opposite.

: Just on the basis of logic, ESC's interpretation is the correct one. A deceptively simple situation or statement or plan is, by definition, simple. And equally by definition it is deceptively so, which can only mean that the simplicity is a deception. When we get into it we find more ramifications than seemed likely from the way it was stated.

: Moral: stay away from plans which are too simple to be true, unless you have parsed all the ramifications first.

: Keep in mind the words of H.L. Mencken: "There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong." Another version is: "There is always an easy solution to every problem . . . ." And I've seen "There is always a simple solution, neat, plausible and wrong."
: SS

Good moral, but in my opinion, it has little to do with the proposed phrase. The word "deceptive" does not suggest that an action is not taken, so why would it do so in this case?

For example: "She was deceptively young" would suggest that although she is young, she doesn't appear young, which would be the deception. However, the phrase "She appeared deceptively young" allows the "appeared" to work with "deceptively", rather than "young", thereby causing it to mean that her youthful appearance is the deception.

So in the case of "deceptively simply", unaugmented by other contextual words, the meaning is that the item in question IS simple, but that it appears to be otherwise.

For example, the following question is deceptively simply: "If a rooster was perched atop a northern slope of a church roof, and a 10 km per hour wind was blowing towards the south side, when it lays an egg, keeping in-mind the oblong shape, will it land on the North, or South Side, or will it roll towards the east or west?"

The deceptively simple answer is that roosters don't lay eggs. The deception being that it at first appears as though there will be math involved in the discovery of the answer, but it's soon realized that it is actually a simple question in basic biology.