The Subtle Difference Between Complex and Complicated
- On March 13, 2019
Last month, Jeff Bezos got a lot of exposure for—among other things—his use of the term complexifier, a word that doesn’t appear in English language dictionaries. In his widely publicized blog post about not succumbing to blackmail, Mr. Bezos wrote that owning The Washington Post is a complexifier for him.
While complexify is not a word, complex is—and it’s considered a synonym for complicated. The two words do share meanings, but they also have an important distinction. Complicated is generally used to describe things that are difficult to understand or do—like designing rocket ships or performing brain surgery—but with proper planning or training they can be understood or achieved. When things are complex, however, they carry an element of unpredictability—of moving parts—making them difficult to solve in the same way you would things that are just plain complicated.
After President Trump declared a national emergency to finance a border wall, The New York Times, for example, used complex to describe the legal issues he would face to get it built. “Whatever the outcome,” the Times wrote, “the legal issues are complex, and the case could wind up bogged down indefinitely.”
Depending on where you stand, you’re either in favor of the wall being a complicated issue that eventually will sort itself out or a complex one whose future is not so clear.