How do you differentiate between the uses for the words specious (apparently but not actually valid) and facile (apparently neat and comprehensive only by ignoring the true complexities of an issue). When I look them up in a thesaurus, they aren't given as synonyms, although to me they appear to have similar meanings. It seems that these words could be used interchangeably in sentences concerned with lines of reasoning, i.e., "His specious argument convinced only those with little knowledge of the facts."


Specious has connotations of deception, whereas facile (from the French, meaning "easy") has connotations of laziness. A specious argument is generally intended to deceive, a facile argument is lazy and shallow. An argument could be both specious and facile, but you'd generally describe it as one or the other, depending on what motivations you imputed to the person providing it.

It is possible for an argument to be unintentionally specious, but that wouldn't be the typical usage.


The common element in the two words is that they describe things presented misleadingly. The words have unrelated original meanings, however, and they still tend to be used different contexts. S.I. Hayakawa, Choose the Right Word (1968) puts facile in a group of words with easy, effortless, elementary, and simplified; he puts specious in a group with treacherous, disloyal, false, hypocritical, traitorous, treasonable, and unfaithful. Here are his comments on the two words:

Facile and effortless both apply to that which is achieved, performed, or activated with apparent ease. Facile was once a close synonym of easy but now carries somewhat derogatory overtones. It may describe that which is superficial in a bad sense or even spurious: the facile smile of the hard-sell salesman. Facile is also used of something which shows signs of having been done with too little expenditure of effort or with undue haste. It further suggests the careless or undisciplined use of skill or dexterity: a facile, flowing prose style in which the author has very little to say. Facile in an extended sense, also points to glibness and thoughtlessness of speech: the facile tongue of the born gossip.


Specious and hypocritical both suggest a misleading contrast between appearance and reality or between stated beliefs and actions. Specious once suggested no more than a pleasing appearance, but now it is taken most often to mean a deliberately dissembling manner or to suggest something that seems true but proves false: specious reasoning; specious declarations of friendship.

With regard to the older understanding of specious, I note that Merriam-Webster's First Collegiate Dictionary (1908) reports both the positive definition and the beginnings of the negative definition:

Specious a. 1. Presenting a pleasing appearance ; showy. 2. Apparently right; superficially fair, just, or correct; appearing well at first view; plausible.

But the Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) shows how much had changed in the word's understood meaning over the intervening decades:

specious adj. 1 obs : SHOWY 2 : having deceptive attraction or allure 3 : having a false look of truth or genuineness : SOPHISTIC {specious reasoning}

So the main difference in the two words today is that specious refers to something that appears at first encounter to be genuine or to be soundly argued or reasoned, while facile refers to something that is presented as being easier or more clear-cut or less controversial than it actually is.


They have differing definitions, and more importantly, connotations.

Specious: having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious: deceptively appealing. (TFD)

While it does mean fallacious, the connotation is that specious argument is intended to deceive. The person doing this is crafty.

Facile: done or achieved with little effort or difficulty; easy; arrived at or presented without due care, effort, or examination; superficial. (TFD)

This means an argument that is erroneous because it is glib (given without thought); superficially convincing but actually simplistic. It's not intended to deceive; it is just spouted off without insight. The person doing this is not a thoughtful person.

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