Wednesday 27 July 2011

Why the word ‘simple’ baffles me everytime I hear it

Usually while describing a learned professor, the word which is oft used is ‘simple.’ Sentences like, “He is quite brilliant but very simple,” is something which I hear quite a bit. What exactly does this word mean? Simple, I see, is used in different contexts. For example, “Today I have cooked a simple meal,” “My thoughts are always simple,” “They are very rich, but quite simple,” She has a way of dressing very simple;” I am a simple person with not many ambitions.” Mind boggling, isn’t it? This word has almost seeped into many contexts.

In the context of food, it could mean a preparation without many spices and that which requires less cooking time; in academics, it could mean that in spite of having qualifications which run up to two lines, the individual is not proud; in terms of societal standing, it could mean that in spite of having abundance of wealth, the people live lives devoid of pomp and glory. Well, . . . I have even read blog posts which begin with, “Today’s post is a simple one.” 

Now I have a problem with this usage. Take this context, for example:  if a woman has no wealth, but tries to act rich by the way she dresses and talks, she is spurned by many but if people who are rich don’t display their wealth, they are called ‘simple.’ How does one digest that? Does simplicity reveal itself only through the exterior? Just because one does not dress extravagantly or uses less spice, does the individual/object become simple? It has to be something more that, I reckon.

By using the word ‘simple,’ does one categorise people, food, film, character, etc.? Can one word be used to signify different traits? Are we lazy to exploit the other words in the English language and therefore use a single word to describe heterogeneous contexts? 

My professor always says: “There are no synonyms in any language. Every word has its own context and cannot be replaced by another.” I think he is right. What do you think?
Image: Internet


  1. Simple can be a great compliment in the context of how one lives. It can mean the absence of showing off, or of not flaunting wealth, not being ostentacious, so when people say that we live simply, I think it's great..

  2. You sound so irritated with the usage of word simple. But again a very out of the box post...and completely agree with you... at times 'simple' simply dosent convey anything! Sorry dont throw anything at me for using that word again!

  3. are u ok Susan?You sound a little can get to your nerves at time,but relax..good post..u got me thinking..

  4. simple is one of those words that has taken on far too many meanings depending on the i would certainly not mind a simple life...

  5. Reading this, I felt guilty. Because I use (abuse?) the word a lot. Looking it up I found dozens of synonyms (a word which has the same or nearly the same meaning).

    Simply put, words and their meaning concern every serious writer, from Shakespeare to Kerouac to King.

    Susan, I try to remember that "...we have ceased fighting anything or anyone..." --Alcoholics Anonymous p84

    When I do that, life simply seems better. More like...SIMPLE!

    Love and PEACE, Indian Peep!

  6. Interesting. I usually take simple to mean a compliment, but it can also be used as a negative. Hummmm.....

    "Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free...."

    You have given me a lot to think about today!

  7. Simple minded or simply dressed, insult and compliment using the same term. You are right how confusing this can be. Set me to thinking you did.<3

  8. Hello Susan:

    Perhaps one must be simple to undestand the concept.

    I think perhaps it relates to having a clarity of thought and directness of speech or writing.

    Complexity to be is the tool of the deceiver or the dull minded and dull witted as a means to cover up their lack of brillance.
    At least, in my view.
    Take care,

  9. I understand what you're saying Susan Deborah and think you have actually gotten some really insightful comments on this word. I strive for a simple life, one that is much like Jim defined the word in the first comment (aside from not having too much wealth to show off in the first place:)! I would take simple as a compliment in every area except if one was referring to my mind.:) I love the idea of a life uncomplicated by extras...internally and externally.

    Wishing you a beautiful day today!

  10. I dont see any problem in using the word 'simple' ..... for my understanding the word simple simply represents transperancy, clarity, purity, normalcy etc. If a professor is known to be brilliant and simple, then it implies he could able to transfer his thoughts and actions 'clearly' even to a layman. If a food is simple, then one could easily relate the taste to its source (interms of ingrediants), instead a complex food makes you to wonder which taste is from which. A simple way of dressing infers that a person is very normal (irrespective of the wealth) or our mind could read it without any hindarance. A simple person knows clearly what he is doing. If what I am writing is clear then it is simple. One could go on giving lot of examples. I must stop now simply because it is becoming no more simple.

  11. I like the word 'simple'... but what gives it meaning... depends on the tone of the voice and the way the word is used.
    Voila.... c'est simple!

  12. simplicity is simply a state of mind.. a state of anything for that matter of fact. A word that came about probably because of the human need for varying degrees of comparison...
    A novel thought and post!

  13. I always associated simple to be something without the frills. In the case of people, it is someone who is humble, a good hearted person and even naive. You are right though, we do use this term pretty to cover up for our laziness.

  14. I would like to answer this for you. But with my marketing training all i can offer is a KISS the acroynm for "Keep it simple, Stupid!".I do hope you forgive my short and simple comment today. Surely it's better than uncomplicated, so much easier to spell

  15. Simplicity I prefer to 'unnecessarily complicated'... after all the same is meant.

  16. I've always thought of seeking a simple life. Now I must really consider what I mean by this.

    Susan, how do you come up with these thoughts - so unique and not really simple at all.

    Take care, enjoy.

  17. I think your second paragraph explains and defines 'simple' and 'simplicity' accurately.

    On the whole, simple is the opposite of complex and I, personally, prefer simplicity in everything: style, clothes, food, relations. This simplicity though has to go along with good taste in order to be considered positive concept.

  18. I'm a first timer here via Authentic Blogger. I shared this on my Facebook page 'Resonance Network'. Can see it here:
    I think I'll keep coming back to read more.

  19. Jim:

    True, what you have expressed here.


    I am glad you hear me. The word, 'simple' is quite limiting.

  20. Alpana:

    Nothing is wrong Alpana. All is well. Glad that this post kindled your thoughts.



  21. Steve:

    So do many, dear Steve.
    Big hugs to you, Steve.



  22. Mike:

    Hmmmm. Perhaps I should not think a lot about words, I guess. When I say simple is overused, I am just referring to the language aspect and not the action.


    Confusing, yes. We don't venture into the world of new words.

  23. Colleen:

    Colleen, many heare are literally thinking of the contexts of the word, 'simple' while I am talking of the usage. Not quite simple, huh?


    Welcome here. Glad to see you here. Now you are confusing the word 'simple' with 'normal.' If the writing is clear, how is it simple? It is just has clarity. But sometimes even complex ideas are presented with clarity and that is not quite simple.

  24. Sav:



    Thanks for your visit and insightful comment.

  25. Rimly:

    Glad that you hear me.


    Ha Ha Larry. But in few lines you have conveyed your thoughts. Precise, I should say not SIMPLE.

  26. Dulce:



    Your kind words always pep me up, dear Myrna. thanks for your continued visits and thoughts.

  27. DUTA:

    Hmmm. Maybe you are right, DUTA.


    Thanks for the honour and welcoem to my blog. I will look forward to your visits.

    Best Wishes :)

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