Thursday, June 30, 2005

Deceptively deceptive

An interesting note from my American Heritage Word a Day calendar on deceptively:

When deceptively is used to modify an adjective, the meaning is often unclear. Does the sentence The pool is deceptively shallow mean that the pool is shallower or deeper than it appears? When the Usage Panel was asked to decide, 50 percent thought the pool shallower than it appears, 32 percent thought it deeper than it appears, and 18 percent said it was impossible to judge. Thus a warning notice worded in such a way would be misinterpreted by many of the people who read it, and others would be uncertain as to which sense was intended. Where the context does not make the meaning of deceptively clear, the sentence should be rewritten, as in The pool is shallower than it looks or The pool is shallow, despite its appearance.


At 4:54 PM, June 30, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

Wow. You do have to stop and think about it for a moment, but I can't imagine somebody being qualified to be on the Usage Panel and thinking "deceptively shallow" somehow means "deeper than it looks."

At 12:40 AM, July 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. Wouldn't in this context the word "deceptively" cast doubt on that which follows it?

Similarly, I'd read a deceptively simple math problem as one that appears simple but is difficult. I'd think of a deceptively easy golf course as one that appears easy, but isn't.

At 3:54 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Bill said...

The water is shallow -- deceptively so. The course is easy -- deceptively so.

At 6:41 PM, July 01, 2005, Blogger Nicole said...

Hence the confusion.


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