"deceptively" ?

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Mon Apr 7 19:16:25 UTC 2003

On Mon, 7 Apr 2003, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:

#I was recently asked about the following situation: There is a task
#that looks very difficult to do, but is in fact very simple. Should
#this be described as "deceptively simple" or "deceptively difficult"?
#This puzzled me, so I've been looking through loads of
#evidence, collected and corpus-based (I haven't found
#anything useful in usage guides), and it seems that
#"deceptively simple/easy" and "deceptively difficult" both
#mean 'difficult, though appearing to be simple'.

Have you found any patterns of information in distinctions beyond the
choice of adjective? E.g.,

1. The task is deceptively easy.

2. The task seems deceptively easy.

3. The instructions are deceptively simple.

Absent other indications, I would assign part of the indication of
"deceptiveness" to "seems" in (2) and to "instructions", as
distinguished from the task itself, in (3). In both cases I would infer
that the task is harder than it seems, and in (3) that the instructions
conceal the difficulty of the task.

-- Mark A. Mandel

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