I am looking for a word (or phrase, I suppose) that means/implies that an explanation of a deeply technical subject is over-simplified almost to the point of inaccuracy in order to convey a particular concept.

The borderline technical fallacies might be elaborated or clarified later on, but for the time of the original explanation, they are intentionally left vague or inaccurate.

An example might be trying to explain how to bake a chocolate cake. I might use a simplified explanation of saying that you must combine and bake butter, eggs, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda.

But in reality if you combined them all then baked them, you wouldn't end up with anything remotely close to a chocolate cake, because there is a specific order in which all the individual ingredients must be combined before you end up with a real chocolate cake.

edit: I'm looking for a word (preferably) or a phrase (if a single word doesn't exist for the concept) that implies both the simplification of a concept, as well as it being for the purpose of conveying a specific concept. My cake analogy may not be the best, I'll try to think of a better one and edit this question if I do.


14 Answers 14


Watered Down is used to denote when something is simplified. Now, how simplified it may be is largely subjective.

High school students will receive a watered down version of Newton's laws and special relativity.


Scientific papers almost always include abstracts, an outline of the problem addressed, methods used, and results obtained. Capsule biographies lay out only the major events in a person's life without going into detail about them. A synopsis explains what a book or movie is about a few paragraphs or less. There are also summaries, outlines, and thumbnail sketches. A common heading for such things is "At a Glance."


Reading your question, something that comes to mind is Layman's Terms, a phrase derived from layman, which is defined as a person who is not of a particular profession.

In the case of a mechanic, it might be quicker and get the point across to a customer to say that a gasket or a brake pad broke, when this is not exactly the case. Talking to another mechanic, they'll say the gaskets leak and the pads are worn, but all that matters to the customer (the layman, in this case) is that it won't work and needs to be replaced or fixed.


First, a suggested edit for the title of your question. I don't think "oversimplified" is the best word for your question (of course, it is your question). I suggest "highly simplified", and it fits your cake example.

As for an answer to your question: overview

overview: "a ​short ​description of something that ​provides ​general ​information but no ​details" Cambridge Dictionaries Online (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/overview)

For example, a one sentence overview of the structure of the atom might say: "An atom has a heavy nucleus that is surrounded by electrons." From there you go on to the size and mass and constituents of the nucleus and the mass and orbitals of the electrons. Eventually you get to quarks and gluons. Each level of the description, however incomplete, including the overview, is correct as far as it goes.


An over-simplified explanation in the sense it was presented I would call it simply as "a brief outline". That's a rough and brief description of main points or scope/sketch of an idea, procedure, protocol etc. A brief outline in its strict sense has nothing to do with accuracy but instead to the level of details it contains. It's just a "what's all about" rather than a step-by-step instruction to be followed to achieve a goal. For instance, in the realm of patent application you should provide just a brief outline of the invention to get away with patent infringement. On the other hand, in academic papers you might be asked to provide a full detailed description of your experiments to have its accuracy checked by ad-hoc reviewers with expertise in the field. That's my own experience backed up by web dictionaries checkings.


Consider abusive popularization

"abusive" definition: wrongly or improperly used; corrupt.

"popularize" definition: to present in a widely understandable or acceptable form


Consider "the gist".

The gist of the recipe is to combine sugar, flour eggs and butter, and bake the resulting batter. The order you add the ingredients is important, though, so read the full recipe carefully.


From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

  Nutshell \Nut"shell`\, n.
     {in a nutshell} in a summarized and very abbreviated form; --
        of statments, descriptions, reports, and other
        communications; as, to describe the convention in a

  Sketch \Sketch\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Sketched}; p. pr. & vb. n.
     {Sketching}.] [Cf D. schetsen, It. schizzare. See {Sketch},
     1. To draw the outline or chief features of; to make a rought
        [1913 Webster]

     2. To plan or describe by giving the principal points or
        ideas of.
        [1913 Webster]

In the Midwest you might hear someone is "dumbing it down" when explaining a technical subject to a layman.


I've always heard it described as "lies to children."

Because some topics can be extremely difficult to understand without experience, introducing a full level of complexity to a student or child all at once can be overwhelming. Hence elementary explanations are simplified in a way that makes the lesson more understandable, though technically wrong. A lie-to-children is meant to be eventually replaced with a more sophisticated explanation which is closer to the truth.


I would use simplistic

simplistic (adjective): treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are.


"abridged" - sometimes referred to more colloquially as the "Readers Digest" version. "Abridged" is also used in musical terminology to denote a stripped-down arrangement of a more complex, technical or longer piece of music, usually written with learner or less-accomplished musicians in mind.

  • Welcome to EL&U. Your answer may or may not be a good one, but it's always a good idea to include some supporting evidence. Can you offer some reputable sources or linked definitions to back up your suggestion, in the context of the question?
    – JHCL
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 7:11

I suggest Prevarication or Prevaricated - meaning a deliberately misleading statement, or known as telling the truth to hide the truth. I see you refer to 'in order to convey a particular concept' - and prevarication definitely has this overtone. So the cake is made by combining ingredients. Yes, that's correct, but useless, information. So it's true, but hides the real truth.


Thanks for the answers. I didn't quite find exactly one I was looking for, but have been able to piece together what I wanted by combining a few of the answers together. I also upvoted all the ones that could have worked, whether I used them or not.

Also wanted to add this one which I also made use of:


  • involving or limited to basic principles
  • of or relating to an immature, undeveloped, or basic form

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