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Simple and Simplistic

Commonly Confused Words

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Simple and Simplistic

W. Richard Whitaker et al., MediaWriting (Routledge, 2009)

The adjective simple means plain, ordinary, uncomplicated. The adjective simplistic is a pejorative word meaning overly simplified--characterized by extreme and often misleading simplicity.

See also: Simple Sentence.

Examples:

  • "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." (Albert Einstein)

  • "Pupils are being set simplistic science exam questions when they have been taught to a much higher level, scientists claimed today." (The Guardian, June 30, 2008)

  • "The simple model, on which assessments of proportion of variance that is genetic have been based, seems too simplistic to give useful insight." (J. Maindonald, Data Analysis and Graphics Using R, 2010)

Usage Notes:

  • "Simple is an uncomplicated word which means 'straightforward, easy,' as in a simple solution. Compare a simplistic solution, which is too easy, i.e. it oversimplifies and fails to deal with the complexities of the situation. So simplistic is negatively charged, whereas simple is neutral or has positive connotations. Because simplistic is the longer and more academic-looking word, it's sometimes misguidedly chosen by those who want to make their words more impressive. The results can be disastrous, as in:
    This software represents the state-of-the art in information-retrieval systems, and comes with simplistic instructions on how to operate it.
    Heaven help the operator!"
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Cambridge University Press, 2004)


  • "It is important . . . to distinguish simple messages that capture the essence of an issue from those that are just 'simplistic.' Simplistic messages are dumbed down, trivialize the issue, or dodge the core of the problem, rather than targeting it. Many political slogans are simplistic; for example, 'you pay too much in taxes' is catchy, appealing, and might even be true, but it ignores the underlying issues of what services those taxes pay for, whether you want or need them, and whether they provide good value for your money. Rather than condensing complex arguments about the balance of costs versus services, it avoids them--hence not simple, but simplistic."
    (Joshua Schimel, Writing Science: How to Write Papers That Get Cited and Proposals That Get Funded. Oxford University Press, 2012)

Practice:

(a) Senator Ted Stevens was lampooned for his _____ description of the internet as a series of "tubes."

(b) "The truth is rarely pure and never _____." (Oscar Wilde)

Answers to Practice Exercises

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

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