In common parlance, "gross" is often used to mean "disgusting." That caused me to immediately think the phrase "gross oversimplification" was intentionally insulting. After thought, I remembered the other definitions of "gross."

Which definition of "gross" is being conveyed, and what is the definition of "gross oversimplification" that stems from that?

  • Here's a link to a page of Merriam-Webster Online. Check the definitions listed there, and see if you can find one that seems to match the usage you're asking about. One of them (I think) is pretty obviously relevant to the phrase "gross oversimplification." It's a good practice to check a general-reference online dictionary for definitions of a particular word before asking at English Language & Usage whether an appropriate definition of the word exists. – Sven Yargs Sep 20 '15 at 17:45
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    I'm voting to close this question as general reference, since a satisfactory answer is available from one or more readily accessible online dictionaries. – Sven Yargs Sep 20 '15 at 17:52

"Gross" here means "extreme." The meaning in this context is neutral: it has neither positive nor negative connotation.

A oversimplification means it was simplified more than was necessary. A gross oversimplification means it was simplified far more than was necessary.


Anytime you use a word, all of its possible connotations can be present in a listener's mind. Those that do not (cannot reasonably or even perhaps emotionally) fit the context in which you use it are normally filtered out (but they are still present on some level).

The primary meaning here is gross in the sense of great (large) or coarse-grained, and not disgusting. (But see my last point here, about oversimplification.)

But the context does not rule out an additional (parallel, possible) understanding of disgusting. That is, it is possible to meaningfully read the sentence with the meaning of disgusting in mind -- that is a possible interpretation.

More context (e.g., additional sentences) surrounding the occurrence can further filter, strengthening the meaning in one direction or another. For example, surrounding context could make clear that the speaker did, in fact, want to suggest that the oversimplification was disgusting.

Already (without any additional context), the use of the term oversimplification suggests something untoward, possibly disgusting or uncalled for, and not just a large simplification.

  • Did you really just answer a technical question with a philosophical linguistic segue? – DougM Sep 20 '15 at 17:06
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    @DougM: No. What makes you think that? "The primary meaning here is gross in the sense of great (large) or coarse-grained, and not disgusting." That's the main point of the answer. But it is not the whole answer. The whole answer to the question here of Which? is "in this case, both". Context is everything for such a "which?" question -- and that too is part of the answer. – Drew Sep 20 '15 at 17:30
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    @DougM There’s nothing very technical about the question. If anything, the question is more philosophical than Drew’s answer. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 20 '15 at 17:32
  • There was not context given in the question, other than the word "oversimplification." Can you tell me how an oversimplification can be disgusting? An example sentence perhaps? – michael_timofeev Sep 22 '15 at 3:28
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    You say that "disgusting" is a possible interpretation but how is this possible? Possible in the sense we can put words together (such as chocolate transistor) or possible in the sense people will use it. I think in the later case it is very very small, if at all. – michael_timofeev Sep 22 '15 at 3:32

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