A friend of mine is selling her house, so I took a look at the online listing. I didn’t get past the first two words before I stopped, baffled. The listing started off by describing the house as “deceivingly spacious.” What the heck did that mean?
I suppose the listing intended us to understand something like this: “You might think this house isn’t spacious, but you would be deceived. It really is spacious.” But is that correct usage (aside from questionable strategy of starting out a real estate description with the word “deceivingly”)?
I thought: presumably the listing broker came up with the phrase by some vague analogy with the idiom “deceptively simple.” OK, that’s reasonable. But then I realized I didn’t know what the heck “deceptively simple” means. Take this sentence:
Horowitz made playing the Chopin Ballade look deceptively simple.
That sounds like a reasonable usage; it suggests that playing the piece is in fact difficult. but Horowitz made it look easy. But this also sounds reasonable to me:
The problem seemed complicated, but its solution turned out to be deceptively simple.
It turns out that I am not alone in my confusion; deceptively is just hard to parse, and people tend to use it any way they want. This British site has a good discussion of the word and zeroes in on the specific usage in real estate:
Other meanings are harder to pin down. The estate agent’s favourite, “deceptively spacious” – does it mean a property which looks small from the street, or from photos, but is actually very large? Or does it – as Dogberry thinks – mean a property which is rather small, but gives the impression of being spacious through use of light and clever decorating? Either way, it means a property whose spaciousness is compromised in some way – not very desirable, but perhaps intriguing enough to persuade a buyer to set up a viewing.
Here’s another site, among many, where people tie themselves into knots trying to figure out what “deceptively simple” means.
I think the lesson here is to avoid deceptively or its evil cousin deceivingly if you want to be sure you’re understood. My friend is going to suggest that her listing be changed to “surprisingly spacious.” Works for me.