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We might pity hunter-gatherers for their stuck simplicity.

(From Becoming Wild by Carl Safina)

I've known 'stuck' is used as 'predicative'.

Does the attributive usage above look idiomatic?

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  • I've no idea what 'stuck simplicity' means. Did you write the sentence? Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 9:54
  • No. It was from a book: Becoming Wild: How Animals Learn to be Animals by Carl Safina
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 11:18
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    Right. I've traced the quotation and find that it refers to hunter-gatherers. I don't find it idiomatic; presumably he means 'because they seem to be stuck in a very simple lifestyle'. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 12:57
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    I read it as a clumsily shortened allusion to stuck in a rut. It's still a bit "fast and loose" syntactically speaking, but the reference is more explicitly made in [Agricola did not] put his own shoulder ... to the wheel ... of his rut-stuck wagon. Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 14:07

3 Answers 3

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The author grew up on Long Island near New York City.

Non-rhoticity (or r-lessness): The traditional metropolitan New York accent is non-rhotic; in other words, the sound [ɹ] does not appear at the end of a syllable or immediately before a consonant. Thus, there is no [ɹ] in words like park [pʰɒək] … .
— New York accent

The most obvious and simplest answer is that “stuck simplicity” is how he misheard the expression “stark simplicity” (as “staahk simplicity").

The expression doesn't seem to exist anywhere other than the given quotation.

Should the expression catch on and become widespread though, it would be called an eggcorn:

An eggcorn is the alteration of a phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements, creating a new phrase having a different meaning from the original but which still makes sense and is plausible when used in the same context. Eggcorns often arise as people attempt to make sense of a stock phrase that uses a term unfamiliar to them, as for example replacing "Alzheimer's disease" with "old-timers' disease", or Shakespeare's "to the manner born" with "to the manor born".

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    +1 for "stark simplicity"; I didn't think of that, but I think that it's the correct interpretation. The misspelling (perhaps it was just a typo) must have slipped past the book's editors. Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 4:10
  • @MarcInManhattan I feel like agreeing with your comment. It couldn't have meant to be 'stuck'.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 12:11
  • @Ray Two thums up while taking my hat off to you.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 12:13
  • I lived in New York City for many moons and accent simply does not come across in writing unless its dialogue.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 17:28
  • @BEBYGONES, the check-mark should move from my (incorrect) speculation to the new, guaranteed-correct horse's mouth answer. Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 15:50
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This phrase seems to be the invention of the author, that is, it isn't an idiom or fixed phrase. However, I, for one, don't feel the need to appeal to eggcorns or typos to explain it. It seems meaningful enough in context.

It assumes we adopt a notion of human progress from hunter-gatherer to subsistence farmer to civilization. And it supposes that the peoples who remain hunter-gatherers are "stuck" and unable to "progress". It assumes that hunter-gathering is a simpler way of living. All these assumptions are questionable, but my purpose is not to critique the book. It merely says that hunter-gatherers are "stuck" in a simple way of living.

And so "the stuck simplicity" means the simplicity of a way of life that hasn't progressed to farming or civilization.

However while "a stuck switch" or "a stuck car" are common, this use is rather unusual, so I'd recommend a learner not to emulate it.

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  • You think it's idiomatic? Or more or less awkward?
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:57
  • Reading more of the quote, one realises that this is ironic. The author rejects the assumption that they are "stuck".
    – James K
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 15:16
  • I don't have any big problem with it. It is an original use of "adj+noun".
    – James K
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 15:29
  • 'stuck' is not usually used like that: it is used after the verb 'be'. So that's why I asked the question if the attributive usage as you said(adj+noun) is normal and idiomatic.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 16:48
  • It is rather unusual, but it follows regular syntax, and a standard meaning "unable to progress". I'd probably recommend a Learner not using the word stuck like this., as it seems rather uncommon.
    – James K
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 16:55
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Here is the definitive answer:

Subject: Re: Becoming Wild
From: Carl Safina <[email protected]>
Date: 2021-01-09 10:18:00 -0500 (EST)

Stuck meaning stuck. As in: it might seem to an outsider
that they are not capable of change or innovation.

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