2

I found this expression in the following sentence:

When he put it that way I felt a little foolish, like it was much too tidy an explanation.

What does “too tidy an explanation” mean? Does it mean that it's an explanation so clear that it's almost embarrassing?

  • Tidy:(Informal) Adequate; satisfactory: a tidy arrangement.thefreedictionary.com/Tidy – user66974 Feb 5 '15 at 6:39
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    @Josh61 Given the context, that could not be the intended meaning. – Kris Feb 5 '15 at 6:54
  • @Kris - I think it is!! – user66974 Feb 5 '15 at 6:57
  • Of course, you do. Else you wouldn't have said as much in the first place. – Kris Feb 5 '15 at 7:02
4

I have four possible meanings here. I think #4 is most applicable to you.

  1. "Too tidy an explanation" is when an oversimplified answer is given to a difficult and nuanced question. It might fail to address exceptions to rules.

"Too tidy an explanation" of why World War One began is because the system of alliances and arms race caused a tension in society which was triggered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Although this is certainly true to an extent, there was far more going on in early 20th century Europe, making this explanation "too tidy."

  1. "Too tidy" implies that the speaker is suspicious of the answer, thinking it can not be complete or correct because the problem it is dealing with is too complex.

A conspiracy theorist might say that the government's assertion that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden is "too tidy an explanation."

  1. It might also refer to something which is valid in theory but unsatisfactory in practice.

To the question, "How do I save and budget my money?" an answer which is "too tidy" might be "Don't spend any money on entertainment." Clearly this would save money, but it is impractical, generalized, and ultimately not helpful.

  1. Finally, an explanation might be seen as "too tidy" if the problem is perceived to be complex and difficult but in fact has a simple solution. I suspect this is the meaning of the expression in your context. Because the problem was complex, the solution was expected to be complex. Therefore, the speaker feels foolish for not seeing the obvious and simple solution.
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"too tidy an explanation" would usually mean an explanation that was more complete than you might expect, like it had been carefully arranged in advance. There is often an element of suspicion over either its accuracy or its relevance; like attention is being drawn away from some other problem.

That meaning doesn't entirely fit with the example presented, however. I get the feeling there that it was an insight-type explanation - simple, obvious in hindsight and providing an good understanding, but perhaps unlikely to be discovered independently.

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