I wish to describe an explanation, which is broadly correct, but which glosses over some potentially important details.

The nearest term I can think of is "hand-waving explanation". Is there something more formal I could use instead?

  • A quick ’n’ dirty explanation or run-through, perhaps? May 14, 2014 at 0:29

7 Answers 7


Though not familiar with your "hand-waving explanation," I think I know where you're going with this. There are any number of possibilities:

  • On the face of it . . .. (In other words, the explanation sounds good initially, but given a closer look, maybe "not so much!")

  • A prima facie explanation (Again, an explanation which upon closer inspection may have some flaws. It satisfies certain conditions but not necessarily all.)

  • An ill-considered explanation

  • A rush to judgment (This is an explanation for, say, the guilt of someone, before all the facts have been gathered, inspected, and verified.)

  • An interim explanation

  • An unsubstantiated explanation

  • An incomplete, inadequate, superficial, surface, incomplete, or partial explanation

  • An ostensible explanation, but upon closer examination . . ..

  • A cursory explanation

  • An explanation which at first blush seems adequate, but upon closer examination . . ..

  • An unthought out explanation

  • An ad hoc explanation

These should at least get you started, I hope!


In mathematics, a "proper" proof is called rigorous. Therefore, when you hand-wave, you are giving a nonrigorous explanation.

  • ...but vigorous, thus it is called a vigorous proof by hand waving, one of the top proof methods that are employed by Prof. to quickly bypass difficult stuff in lectures and by students to write difficult maths exam (which usually result in F).
    – THN
    Apr 16, 2018 at 5:36

Try blasé, casual or nonchalant.


I like the definition and terms that are given in TV Tropes:

A Hand Wave (also memetically called "Scotch Tape") is any explanation which is noteworthy for its lack of detail or coherence. The name comes from academia and techy-land, where a person explaining a process on a whiteboard gets to a part that is not well defined or important so just waves their hand around to indicate that Stuff Happens, then moves on to the important goodies.

... In the industry, the vague and generic direction given by management to actors, designers, editors and so on is sometimes known as "hand waving", as it is frequently accompanied by a lot of gesturing.

The article goes on to say:

When skillfully done, a handwave can make things plausible enough so that the audience achieves a Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It can also just turn the whole detail and its inexplicability into a joke. Scotch tape may not be strong, it may not be pretty, but it may be much better to have some sort of explanation than to have nothing at all.

And on to the alternative terms for hand-waving:

The Watson is often a valuable source of Scotch Tape. In Science Fiction shows, a handwave is usually conducted with Techno Babble. In fact, an alternate name for Phlebotinum is Handwavium.

Depending on context, you can take your pick of scotch tape, technobabble, or phlebotinium.


I would say that is a half-baked explanation.

  1. not completed; insufficiently planned or prepared:

I would call that a specious explanation.

specious: apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible.


I think it is an synopsis:

a brief summary or general survey of something

In math, we sometimes use sketch (eg. proof sketch):

a brief written or spoken account or description of someone or something, giving only basic details

See also overview, summary, and abstract (n).

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