deceptively simple

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sun Jan 27 00:49:01 UTC 2008

Editing a manuscript the other day, I was unable to parse the  
collocation "deceptively simple" because I couldn't figure out if it  
means "appears complex but is actually simple" or "appears simple but  
is actually simple". I knew this was bizarre given that I'm a native  
speaker of English, but it also piqued my interest as to why I was  
suddenly drawing a blank.

After Googling around for a bit, I found that is means the latter,  
but I also came up with the following meanings:

1. The basics are easy to learn, but their application/mastery  
requires a great deal of practice or thought. Applications of this  
includes games such as go and texas hold'em

Go is the world's most ancient board game, with deceptively simple  
rules that lead to astonishingly deep strategy. (http://
Texas Hold’em is a deceptively simple game to learn but a harder game  
to master.  ( 
TexasHoldem101.htm by Bill Burton)

2. The surface is simple, but there is great deal of depth. (Nearly  
synonymous with 1)

Deceptively Simple Melodies...A mesmerizing narcotically-addicting  
collage of deceptively simple solo keyboard and synthesizer melodies  
that worm into your mind. ( by  
Douglas King (?))

Deceptively simple stories about earthy country girls (http:// 
DDGUFON4001.DTL&hw=BErrett&sn=001&sc=1000 by Jesse Berrett)

3. Given the simplicity of the operation/interface, it is powerful.

InqScribe sports a deceptively simple interface, pairing your digital  
video and audio with a transcript editor that lets you synchronize  
specific portions of your transcript with corresponding time segments  
within the media. (

"Deceptively simple revenge ideas from Martha Stewart Living", an  
article including simple ideas such as vandalising cars, sending hate  
bouquets, and destroying lawns. ( 
deceptively-simple-revenge-ideas-from.html by Spirit Fingers)

4. Although it is a straight-forward process, the science behind it  
is complex/it is difficult to describe it scientifically.

Resistance Welding: A Fast, Inexpensive and Deceptively Simple  
Process... This makes the process extremely difficult to model  
mathematically...On first inspection, the resistance welding process  
is relatively simple. (  
by T. W. Eager)

(On the design of the Google logo) It was playful and deceptively  
simple. The design subtle as to look almost non-designed, the reading  
effortless. The colors evoke memories of child play, but deftly stray  
from the color wheel strictures so as to hint to the inherent element  
of serendipity creeping into any search results page and the  
irreverance and boldness of the “I am feeling lucky” link. The  
texture and shading of each letter is done in an unobtrusive way  
resulting in lifting it from the page while giving it both weight and  
lightness. It is solid but there is also an ethereal quality to it.  
designer-of-the-google-logo by Philipp Lenssen, citing Ruth Kedar)

5. Appears to be simple, but turns out not to be so.

The Deceptively Simple Senior Search...No way around it: I had one  
weekend to write an all-new, 45-minute dazzler. My simple senior  
search was turning out to be not so simple. ( 
jobs/news/2007/02/2007022701c/careers.html by Julie Striver)


There is also the title "Is Generative Grammar deceptively simple or  
simply deceptive?" ( 
LinguaB.pdf by Stephen Crain and Paul Pietroski)

Admittedly, these can all be classified as having a simple element  
that turns out to have complexity. Nevertheless, meanings 1 and 5 are  
essentially antonymous, and the application of definition 4 is quite  
different from the others. I think this makes this an interesting  
collocation and perhaps indicates that this could be considered a  
single word unit.

What would be interesting is if a citation can be found where  
"deceptively simple" is used to refer to a process that appears to be  
complex but is actually simple.

Benjamin Barrett
a cyberbreath for language life
The American Dialect Society -

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