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If you're disappointed, it means that you expected it (or the thing it did/does) to be better than it really is. In other words, you're surprised that it's not as good as you thought it would be.

So what does "unsurprisingly disappointing" mean? You're not surprised by the fact that it's as bad as expected? Of course you're not surprised, because it's what you expected!

Should have been "unsurprisingly bad", right?

Source: last paragraph of https://www.techspot.com/news/80616-apple-new-mac-pro-isnt-good-cheese-grater.html and many other reviews on the web.

  • My Classics teacher insisted that a catastrophe has to be unexpected, so an England batting collapse, though it might be disastrous, could not be catastrophic. Presumably he would regard the current calamitous performance as unsurprisingly disappointing. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Jul 25 at 11:10
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There is no contradiction here.

Critical is the definition of disappoint. From Google’s dictionary using New Oxford American Dictionary:

disappoint

fail to fulfill the hopes or expectations of (someone). "I have no wish to disappoint everyone by postponing the visit"

The article tells the story of making a cheese grater from material similar to the metal frame or covering on a Mac model. As a cheese grater, it doesn’t work very well. Surprise! Obviously situations can be imagined where one hopes for an unlikely outcome, and is therefore unsurprisingly disappointed.

Consider a teenager who doesn’t study and thus gets poor grades. His mother may be disappointed but not surprised.

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From article:

the performance of the Mac Pro as a cheese grater is unsurprisingly disappointing.

Expectations aren't necessarily predictions.

MW has three relevant definitions:

1a : to consider probable or certain

expect to be forgiven

expect that things will improve

1b : to consider reasonable, due, or necessary

expected hard work from the students

1c : to consider bound in duty or obligated

they expect you to pay your bills

The new Mac Pro is likely disappointing expectations that fall under definition 1b or 1c. It is considered reasonable/dutiful that a cheese grater should be able to grate cheese. The unsurprising part is that computers are in fact not cheese graters (Even if they look like them) and as such are not predicted to be able to grate cheese well. They failing general expectations, rather than predictions tailored to their specific circumstances.


Another situation that comes to mindcould take place at a Grocery store. Manager A has a particularly difficult employee - Cashier B - who continually under-performs the company standards. Cashier B is disappointing with respect to the company standards, and consistently disappointing. Therefore Manager A would be accurate in saying that "Cashier B was unsurprisingly disappointing".


Overall, something can be "unsurprisingly disappointing", because the expectations that are disappointed aren't necessarily the logical predictions of the person that felt "unsurprised".

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    Thank you for this. As an aside, that review (titled "Apple's new Mac Pro isn't a good cheese grater") didn't say the new Mac Pro is not good, just that it's unsurprisingly disappointing as a cheese grater :-) – noamtm Jul 25 at 8:14
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    @noamtm updated to take this into account, my skimming was clearly also disappointing – katatahito Jul 25 at 8:20
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There is nothing particularly wrong with 'unsurprisingly disappointing', and disappointing is not automatically the same as bad.

In my job I edit translations, and there are translators who continue to disappoint. I never give up hope that they will improve, but I am continually unsurprisingly disappointed.

It is always worth remembering that language is more than the kind of grammar so many teachers/translators seem to focus on, it is also the thing that we share, the thing which poets and writers bend to their will to give us fresh insights. And so on.

  • Your answer doesn't explain why the seemingly contradictory meaning is acceptable, just that it is. – katatahito Jul 25 at 7:42
  • @katatahito Not true, it simply does not meet your desire for a proof, but that is not what everyone needs. One merely has to consider Henry James and how much has been written in order to explain his writings and his seemingly contradictory meanings. Finally, the question was 'Does X make sense', not 'How does X make sense' or 'Why does X make sense'. – Trevor Christopher Butcher Jul 25 at 8:52

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