Elaborate = Complex or complicated but without the negative connotation

loviii

Senior Member
russian
Greetings!

I had tried to understand the difference between the adjectives "elaborate", "complex" and "complicated" and found the next explanation in stackexchange.com:
Elaborate = Complex or complicated but without the negative connotation.

But after a while, I had seen the next example in cambridge.org:
(1) He came out with such an elaborate excuse that I didn't quite believe him.
As I understand, "elaborate" in (1) has the negative connotation. Therefore, the explanation above is wrong?

Thanks!
 
  • grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I think it's unlikely that it has a negative connotation in that sentence. After all, the excuse can be quite funny e.g. I was abducted by aliens.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I think it's unlikely that it has a negative connotation in that sentence. After all, the excuse can be quite funny e.g. I was abducted by aliens.
    It has the negative connotation that it is unbelievable. The fact that it is laughably unbelievable doesn't say anything positive about the excuse.
     

    grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I disagree. Just because the person didn't believe him doesn't mean it was unbelievable. Also, I can't see the word laughable there. :)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I disagree. Just because the person didn't believe him doesn't mean it was unbelievable. Also, I can't see the word laughable there. :)
    So you assume that the person not believing him is being irrational (It's a really good excuse and he doesn't believe it because he can't recognize a good excuse)? You said it might be laughable.
     

    grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I didn't assume anything. My point is that people make excuses all the time, be they elaborate or not. Most of them seem about petty issues, so in most cases the word would be unlikely to carry a negative connotation.
    You said it might be laughable.
    The fact that it is laughably unbelievable doesn't say anything positive about the excuse.
    It doesn't say anything negative either.

    Perhaps the OP wishes to explain what he meant by saying that 'elaborate' has a negative connotation in that sentence.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It doesn't say anything negative either.
    I can't believe that you think it is a neutral thing for an excuse to be unbelievable. If an excuse is unbelievable, it doesn't work as an excuse - it is a very poor excuse.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    To me, an elaborate excuse is one that is so complicated that it sounds like the speaker is piling on details in an attempt to justify something overmuch: I left my homework on the table last night, and then my little brother came in, and the homework paper was turned over, and like, he thought it was a blank paper so he drew dirty pictures on it and my mother came in and saw them and just like ripped it up to shreds and screamed super loud at him and threw the pieces in the trash, where they all got like covered with coffee grounds, cause my dad had just emptied the coffeemaker into it so I couldn't tape the paper together and anyway I didn't want to bring dirty pictures to school. So I don't have my homework.
    This excuse makes me think that the youth in question did not do his homework.
     

    grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I can't believe that you think it is a neutral thing for an excuse to be unbelievable.
    It's neutral in the sense that it's neither negative or positive.
    To me, an elaborate excuse is one that is so complicated that it sounds like the speaker is piling on details in an attempt to justify something overmuch: I left my homework on the table last night, and then my little brother came in, and the homework paper was turned over, and like, he thought it was a blank paper so he drew dirty pictures on it and my mother came in and saw them and just like ripped it up to shreds and screamed super loud at him and threw the pieces in the trash, where they all got like covered with coffee grounds, cause my dad had just emptied the coffeemaker into it so I couldn't tape the paper together and anyway I didn't want to bring dirty pictures to school. So I don't have my homework.
    This excuse makes me think that the youth in question did not do his homework.
    :thumbsup::D
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think it was elaborate in the sense that the excuse was convoluted with needless intricacies that are interrelating in the fashion of a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

    A simple excuse: My dog ate my homework.

    An elaborate excuse: My dad and I have the identical backpacks. He flew to Yosemite to climb El Capitan and he has my backpack with him. I have his carabiners, cams and ropes and he has my homework! I'm so worried about Dad!
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Elaborate = Complex or complicated but without the negative connotation.
    I think that idea is false. There are too many uses for all three of those words to reduce it to a simple statement like that.

    Whether elaborate is positive or negative (as well as those other words) depends on the context it is used in.

    When used with the word excuse, it's negative. When used as an explanation of the design of a fancy dress, it's positive.

    Complex and complicated aren't inherently negative, but they might make whatever it is challenging. In some situations, that is a negative. In others, it's simply an enjoyable challenge.
     

    loviii

    Senior Member
    russian
    (1) He came out with such an elaborate excuse that I didn't quite believe him. - "elaborate" has the negative connotation
    (2) He came out with such an elaborate excuse that I quite believed him. - "elaborate" has the positive connotation

    Is (2) also correct in terms of using "elaborate"?

    Thanks!
     

    grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    No, because, as has already been said, 'elaborate' suggests that the excuse was not really believable. This doesn't, in my view, justify saying that 'elaborate' has a negative connotation there.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    He came out with such an elaborate excuse that I didn't quite believe him.
    As I understand, "elaborate" in (1) has the negative connotation.
    Elaborate only appears to be negative because of the context in which it is used. We can omit "elaborate" and still end up with a sentence that expresses negativity towards the person with the excuse:
    (1) He came out with such an excuse that I didn't quite believe him.

    In positive use:
    "The hilt of the sword is decorated with elaborate designs in gold filigree and ivory."
    "The preparations for the experiment were, necessarily, elaborate."

    The conclusion must be that "elaborate" is neutral.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    For me, “elaborate” carries a sense of ornamentation or decoration
    This is precisely it - the excuse (#1), the preparations and the hilt of the sword(#16) are all decorative and ornamented - excuses should not be, but preparations and the hilt of the sword are appreciated.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    No, because, as has already been said, 'elaborate' suggests that the excuse was not really believable. This doesn't, in my view, justify saying that 'elaborate' has a negative connotation there.
    In order for that to be true, you must think that "unbelievable" is neither a good nor a bad thing about an excuse. An unbelievable excuse will not perform it's function. If you use an unbelievable excuse, you will not be excused. To me, that's negative as much as "full of worms" is negative about an apple. Apples are meant to be eaten so "inedible" is not a neutral description of an apple.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    If you use an unbelievable excuse, you will not be excused.
    The word "elaborate" does not really affect this, does it? We could substitute "clever" for "elaborate" (or, as above, omit "elaborate".)

    All 'elaborate' means is "worked on"; "done in detail" - which is hardly negative.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    The word "elaborate" does not really affect this, does it?
    As a part of the established conversation with grassy, it does.
    Clever and elaborate do not have the same connotation. I hope that most people would find "clever" to be positive even if they think "elaborate" was neutral.
     

    loviii

    Senior Member
    russian
    (2) He came out with such an elaborate excuse that I quite believed him. [...]
    Is (2) also correct [...]?
    No, because [...] 'elaborate' suggests that the excuse was not really believable.
    Sorry, just to be clear, the collocation "an elaborate excuse" can only mean an excuse, people don't believe in, and can never mean so detailed an excuse that people believe in it?

    Thanks!
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It was a rather elaborate excuse, which, at first, I did not believe but, strangely, it turned out to be true.
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Greetings!

    I had tried to understand the difference between the adjectives "elaborate", "complex" and "complicated" and found the next explanation in stackexchange.com:
    Elaborate = Complex or complicated but without the negative connotation.

    But after a while, I had seen the next example in cambridge.org:
    (1) He came out with such an elaborate excuse that I didn't quite believe him.
    As I understand, "elaborate" in (1) has the negative connotation. Therefore, the explanation above is wrong?

    Thanks!
    None of these words carries negative or positive connotations. In my world complex or complicated are good things! My professors used to say " can you complicate that question?" if they thought we were being too simplistic or reductive or conventional in our thought!

    Things that are bad in and of themselves may be worse if they are more elaborate or complex or complicated, including excuses, traps, punishments. But a short simple excuse is also bad if it is a lie!

    Many things particularly aesthetic objects are more valuable by being elaborate, complex, complicated, such as textile design, embroidery, classical music, paintings, some forms of architecture. We are in an era that appreciated simplicity in these things but many older forms of European arts are complex by design and that is the source of their beauty.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    But elaborate there definitely has a negative connotation, even if it turns out to be a legitimate excuse. It's true despite that negative connotation, not because of it.

    When desiring an explanation from someone for a perceived mistake, you want something direct, straightforward and honest. "An elaborate excuse" is a wording that suggests certainly that it was not direct and it was not straightforward. And the way real life works, nine times out of ten that would mean it's not true. People aren't that complicated, generally.

    I messed up.
    I forgot.
    I was selfish.
    I was greedy.
    I made a mistake.
    I wasn't thinking.


    Those are all direct, simple excuses.

    I tried but when I got there the place was already closed.

    That's a little more complicated but still straightforward.

    I know I said I was going to be here at seven but the car broke down and it took me two hours to get it fixed.

    That's much longer but still straightforward.

    And here's the receipt.

    Now it's even provably true.

    But this is elaborate beyond the point of absurdity.
    I left my homework on the table last night, and then my little brother came in, and the homework paper was turned over, and like, he thought it was a blank paper so he drew dirty pictures on it and my mother came in and saw them and just like ripped it up to shreds and screamed super loud at him and threw the pieces in the trash, where they all got like covered with coffee grounds, cause my dad had just emptied the coffeemaker into it so I couldn't tape the paper together and anyway I didn't want to bring dirty pictures to school. So I don't have my homework.
    Elaborate as used by the speaker when coupled with "excuse" suggests distrust at minimum. I don't think that can be neutral from the speaker's point of view.
     
    Last edited:

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    'Elaborate' can modify or qualify many things, and context tells you whether it has a positive, negative, or neutral connotation.
    For instance:
    Positive: To celebrate my birthday, my husband and I went to a fancy restaurant for an elaborate five-course dinner. Each course was beautifully presented, especially the dessert, which looked almost like a flower garden.
    Negative: The kid in my fifth grade math class always comes up with such elaborate excuses for why he doesn't have his homework done that I want to tell his parents that they should get him into a creative writing program.
    Neutral: The wedding invitation was done in elaborate calligraphy, perfectly suited to the bridal pair: the lovely daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Scones and the charming heir to the des Framboises fortune.

    Of course, if I like nothing more than a hamburger and french fries, the first example could have a negative connotation (the meal was overly elaborate). If I'm the director of a kids' writing program, then the second example could be positive (the kid is very imaginative). And if I'm far-sighted, then I might not think much of calligraphy (because I can't read it easily).
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    The word "complex" does not have an intrinsic negative connotation, though it can have a negative connotation in certain contexts. This is also true of "elaborate," though elaborate is more likely to have positive connotations than negative ones. I think that "complicated" usually has a negative connotation, though it can have a neutral connotation in some circumstances.

    Compare "intricate" and "convoluted" - both have similar meanings, but "convoluted" tends to have a negative connotation, though it does not always, and "intricate" tends to have a positive connotation, though it also does not always.
     
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