English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've got a feeling it means "I can prove it in a very simple and an ostensive way". Is this so?

Update: The context. http://www.laddertheory.com/commoncriticisms.htm Search for "abacus".

share|improve this question
Can you provide more context? – tenfour Mar 21 '11 at 12:45
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Could do with context, but when I have heard that, it is intended almost as an insult.

"So simple, it can be proved using the simplest of things."

The use implies one of two things usually, either a) the person who is questioning the validity should know it to be true, as it is too simple to bother proving, or b) the person stating the line is very arrogant and is showing off.

share|improve this answer
I've reread the source. Looks like I've got case "b". Thanks for thorough explanation. – Nek Mar 21 '11 at 13:32
@Nek: I dunno — it looks more like case (a) to me, that he’s saying: “look, this is bloody obviously true.” The site as a whole certainly has lots of arrogance and showing off, but this isn’t I think an example of it. – PLL Mar 21 '11 at 14:54
@PLL: The two do overlap, what is "bloody obviously true" to a very arrogant person within their own field, is a much wider gamut than the general populous. ;-) – Orbling Mar 21 '11 at 15:23
@Orbling: populACE, populACE, populACE. (Sorry, pet peeve.) – Marthaª Mar 21 '11 at 21:30
@Martha: Oh yes, noun vs. adjective, always screw that one up - too much of a certain game by Bullfrog as a child. – Orbling Mar 21 '11 at 22:02

Absent further information, "I can prove it on an abacus" simply means something is arithmetically demonstrable.

But it is certainly not an idiom I've ever heard to describe simplicity. "I can draw you a diagram" and "You can point to it" and "It ain't rocket science" (or the funnier "It ain't rocket surgery") are idioms that do express something that is uncomplicated and easy.

share|improve this answer
Have you never heard it used as an insult? I certainly have a few times, mainly by arrogant mathematicians mind. – Orbling Mar 21 '11 at 13:04
@Orbling: It takes more than that to insult me. Thankfully, I remain oblivious to most of the higher-level slurs mathematicians throw at me. Ignorance is bliss. – Robusto Mar 21 '11 at 13:10
@Robusto: I did not mean directly at you. ;-) – Orbling Mar 21 '11 at 13:16
@Orbling: I know. I am just puffing myself up like a blowfish so that dangerous mathematicians keep their distance. – Robusto Mar 21 '11 at 13:20
@Robusto: Mathematicians tend only to be dangerous when they are allowed near physics. ;-) – Orbling Mar 21 '11 at 13:28

I think it means something that I know in any single details or assyom. So, I don't need a computer to elaborate the results, I'm so familiar with the concept that, one step at a time, I can prove it with an abacus.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.