Is there a term for someone who takes a long time to explain simple things, but goes through the complicated ones very briefly?

We had a refresher course on a software we already use, the presenter took a long time to go over some basic forms that everyone already knew how to use, but explained the tricky stuff very briefly. At the end of the meeting the presenter got flooded with questions.

I've seen this before. Is there a word / term /phrase for this?

(Edit) Some comments from the participants:
  • He only explored the surface

  • We only saw the tip of the iceberg

  • 3
    Is there any implication that the presenter did this deliberately? Perhaps because he's "jealously" guarding the "arcane / hermetic / recondite / abstruse" knowledge that's only made available to a select few? If not, it's really just incompetence. Possibly caused by the fact that the presenter himself doesn't know "the tricky stuff" very well, so he spends most of his time (re-)explaining the "easy stuff" that he does know. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 13:58
  • There could a few reasons for that, I think many people like to go for the easy path ( unconsciously maybe), they don't like to invest time on the heavy stuff
    – The One
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:02
  • 2
    No, there is no one term for that. You have to use a phrase.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:56
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? Phrase for focusing on unimportant details ... Majoring on the minors. / Bikeshedding. / Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 15:54
  • 1
    Ponderous but superficial.
    – Xanne
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 18:47

5 Answers 5


He skirted over the complex subjects which everyone wanted to know about. Most of his time was spent saying very little at great length about basic subjects everyone already understood.


There are a few adjectives that fit specific contexts: verbose, windy, rambling, but in your case, prolix seems to be the best fit.

  • prolix "Tending to speak or write at excessive length; tediously prolonged; wordy"
  • "Before introducing himself, he made a humorous allusion to the prolix speaker who had preceded him."
  • "As a speaker he was prolix, monotonous, and never eloquent."

You may as well use a verb

  • pad - "to expand or increase especially with needless, misleading, or fraudulent matter" MW, "to inflate with irrelevant information" Collins
  • "He padded his speech with references to outdated material."
  • "He padded his speech with jokes..."

Is there a term for someone who takes a long time to explain simple things, but goes through the complicated ones very briefly?

No. This is far too complex and rare an idea for a word or a simple phrase to have been coined.

You will have to use several clauses.

Nemo's suggestion is good.


To capture both characteristics (spoke too long and sloughed over the easy stuff), I suggest:

The lecturer relied on long-winded hand-waving.

If the phrase necessarily has to stand for the person, I suggest

The lecturer was a hand-waving windbag.

long-winded (adj.)

Tediously long in speaking or writing m-w

windbag (n.)

An exhaustively talkative person m-w

hand-waving (n., adj.)

The action of waving or gesturing with one's hands; an instance of this. Frequently in extended use: the use of gestures, insubstantial language, or unsupported assertions in order to convince or impress. OED

Also written handwaving. In formal conversation / speech omitting important details about the subject matter either because 1) the audience is perceived to be ignorant 2) the speaker themselves is not well-informed on the subject matter or 3) a little from column A and a little from column B. urbandictionary.com

If the presentation is too long-winded, the discussion leader should attempt to summarise it by emphasising the key elements contained within it. Josh Moust et al.; Introduction to Problem-Based Learning

There was a bit of chuckling, and Mr. Maurer objected to the seemingly long winded answers as Connolly stood, seemingly pondering a way to tailor his questions to elicit direct answer. J. M. Carter; Johnny Nine

Even today, with all out sophistication, many explanations of the results from scientific data are little more than what is often labeled as "hand waving." I have sat through research-group meeting listening to one person pontificate at great length on why we are getting a particular results, only to have me or another person in the room point out that the data actually show just the opposite... C. L. Parkinson; Coming Climate Crisis?

  • "Hand-waving" is not about the length of speech, it's about using vague language when explaining something so it doesn't really explain it at all. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:31
  • 2
    @DJClayworth Correct, it's not about length. It addresses the OP's "explained the tricky stuff very briefly" and the resulting "got flooded with questions."
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:39
  • 1
    I think "hand-waving" is good here. It seems inconceivable that English (or indeed, any language) would have a dedicated terms for the highly specific sense tiresomely long-winded on the already-known basic stuff, but badly lacking in depth for the important / complicated stuff. But "hand-waving" comes pretty close to conveying the gist of that. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:44

In so far as the presenter has displayed a condescending assumption that the people in the audience need to have the basic stuff explained at length, and perhaps also that they wouldn't understand (or be interested in) the more complex matters, the presentation was an example of mansplaining.

As can be seen from the answers to What does "mansplaining" mean?, that term is used especially, typically for the explanations that display such condescending assumptions about women, but is not limited to them; the term thus may be apt regardless of the genders of the audience. Of course, the term can be used in its literal sense only if the mansplainer was a man, but one could, in a joking extension of its meaning, which will be readily understood by those who are familiar with the term, use it even if the presenter was a woman, to suggest that she displayed an attitude similar to that of mansplainers.

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