While chatting with a co-worker, a repeated assertion was made (in the pithy style of Inigo Montoya to Vizzini) that my usage of the term spurious was incorrect when conveying that the output of an implementation of a mathematical function was "fake or false" in the context of the function itself.

For example:

I believe [this tool] is spurious because its output is non-conformant with this function.

That spurious tool does not correctly conform with our analysis. We should fix it.

I am aware of the dictionary definition of the term, explicitly leaning on the subdefinition of "of a deceitful nature or quality" (that is, that the described object may give a false impression because of its incorrect results). However, I am unsure of the verifiable or validatable qualities of this usage of the term.

Is this form of the expression in current accepted use? Some cited examples from reputable sources would help.

  • 2
    Without consulting any references, I'd have thought only an individual value or instance of something can be spurious, not an analytical tool or method itself. I would call the tool "unreliable". Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 22:39
  • Yeah, those two examples are incorrect uses of spurious. In fact, in the second, there is no need to attach a modifier (adjective) to tool at all. The sentence's meaning is clear without it. In the first example, faulty would be better. A usage I'd consider correct is, "His flawed analysis of the matter naturally led to spurious conclusions." The core usage is that of seeming correct or real, but not possessing the genuine qualities of the real thing, as mentioned in your Merriam-Webster link.
    – Kevin K.
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 23:58

1 Answer 1


According to the usage tip in this reference:

Spurious refers to things that are not what they are claimed to be; they are illegitimate.

The results are spurious; they are not what they claim to be. The tool itself, however, is making no such claims, so to refer to the tool as spurious is incorrect.

  • I imagine a spurious mathematical tool would be one that took an input and performed complex operations on it, then returned a simple output, entirely unrelated. Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 14:50

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