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The context is not any food.

Collins defines -

sugar coated: (of a story, information, etc) written or told in a way that makes it seem more palatable

It further gives an example..

a sugar-coated view of a boy's introduction to sex

There's no harm or bad intention

But then OALD says -

(disapproving) made to seem attractive, in a way that tricks people

with an example of ...

a sugar-coated promise

Certainly, there's some harm/bad intention.

As compared to both above (especially Collins), Macmillan takes it into an entirely different direction -

trying to make something seem less unpleasant than it is

So, the question is, is sugar coated a negative word? Or it's simply a way of presenting thing? But then if the latter is true, presenting bad things good or complex things in an understandable way?

If I come to know that the information is sugar-coated, how should I take it? The information has been simplified to my intellect (as in sex-boy example) or it's actually fake to manipulate me?

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  • 1
    You've misread the first quote, Maulik: It's not the introduction that's sugar-coated, its the view of introduction. The introduction could've been rough, but the readers, say, were given a sugar-coated view of it. They were told that the boy's introduction to sex was less rough than it was in reality. Nov 17, 2014 at 8:05
  • Okay, your comment on my last paragraph please. @CopperKettle
    – Maulik V
    Nov 17, 2014 at 8:31
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    I'm not CopperKettle, but you could regard it either way, depending on the situation. Sometimes not sugar-coating is regarded as rude. Let me reverse your last question, and make you the speaker instead of the listener. Suppose your wife asks, "How does this dress look on me?" but you're not very impressed with the dress. I recommend sugar-coating your answer ;^) but not because I'm in favor of "manipulating" your wife. However, if you're exceptionally close to your wife, and you know she'd rather have an honest answer than a nice one, perhaps you should disregard my recommendation.
    – J.R.
    Nov 17, 2014 at 9:13
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    @MaulikV - It's a cool question. I had to think about it for a fairly long time in order to figure it out. Thanks for asking.
    – J.R.
    Nov 17, 2014 at 9:40

2 Answers 2

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Sugar coated isn't a negative word. It doesn't explicity imply a negative meaning.

Its a metaphor.

To sugar-coat a bad story means, it is still a bad story but it is told to sound nicer.

My grandmother was murdered.

vs

My grandmother is with God now.

This has been sugar-coated.

Could it be used to manipulate you? Sure, it happens all the time. ADVERTISING.

They show you the best features to make it better so that you buy it.

How should you feel about it?

Depends on the case and how well you can handle it.

How would you feel if your girlfriend says, "I'm going out with my friend." but later you find out it is "GUY friend"

What if your brother had his wallet stolen and he said, "It's only a couple of dollars."

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  • I agree; whether or not sugar-coating is positive or negative depends on how much the hearer wants the complete and utter truth. If the situation calls for kindness to trump utter honesty, sugar-coating is a good thing. If complete candor is what is desired, sugar-coating becomes a negative thing, because it hides or obscures the truth. Whether sugar-coating is bad or good depends on the situation.
    – J.R.
    Nov 17, 2014 at 9:08
  • Sugar coating is jus a specific form of lying. Whether it is "bad" or not comes down to your personal beliefs about "white lies" and manipulation of people.
    – Davor
    Nov 17, 2014 at 11:24
  • @Davor but then your comment goes opposite to what Collins says! It's not a form of lying but an understandable form of telling something complicated. They call it 'palatable'.
    – Maulik V
    Nov 17, 2014 at 11:39
  • ehm.. "explicitly imply"!? :P Nov 17, 2014 at 12:03
  • @Davor: No it's not. I can tell the facts precisely and without deception but tune my choice of words to make the facts seem more positive or more negative, according to my desires. It's all in the psychology of communication and you certainly don't have to tell non-truths to achieve it. Consider: "Your dog just got totally flattened on the A52 westbound; they're scraping him off now" vs "Johnny, Fido isn't coming home today. He reached the end of his very happy life." Nov 17, 2014 at 12:05
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Is anything that is sugar-coated negative?

Yes.

That said, there are many forms of “negative”. But the end of the day, if something does not have a negative connotation for the speaker or author, there is no reason to sugar-coat it.

Your example about the boy's introduction to sex is an interesting one. Admittedly, I do not believe that an introduction to sex is or should be anything negative. However, reality is that it can actually be a difficult or even traumatizing experience. The fact that it is called sugar-coated is a clear indication that the story portrays the said introduction in a way that makes it look all positive, or at least mellowed down to soften the negative parts, while there certainly where negative aspects to it.

Depending on cultural settings, sugar-coating that story might have a slightly different meaning: it may circumvent the sometimes touchy subject of sex altogether. In that case the use of the word sugar-coat indicates that the author considered it necessary to hide sex itself from the story, as they, or their intended audience may see sex as inappropriate to talk about (and thus, again, the subject is seen as negative).

Now, how should you take sugar-coated information?

That all depends on the situation. Although sugar-coating is certainly not always a lie, it can certainly be used to lie — or rather to twist the truth. The prime example of this kind of sugar-coating may be advertisement!

A very common reason to sugar-coat things, however, is simply to spare someone's feelings. In this case, when you are confronted with a sugar-coated message, instead of feeling that you are being lied to, it is probably more constructive to realize that the speaker is trying to spare your feelings.

Even though the intention of sugar-coating is often to spare someone's feelings, it is not always appreciated. Sure, as others have remarked, you probably want to sugar-coat your reply when your significant other asks how they look when they seem to have had their eyes closed while choosing their dress.

However, in many situations, one may be looking for an honest, straight answer. If I were a CEO wanting to know how the company is doing financially, I probably do not appreciate sugar-coated numbers that paint an altogether too rosy situation.

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  • Good answer. +1 This question came into my mind reading the first example on the dictionary only! But then, if you dig in further, it contradicts with the meanings, comments and answers here. Sugar-coating happens to make things look positive but actually it's negative. In the boy-sex case, it does not seem so.
    – Maulik V
    Nov 18, 2014 at 8:31
  • Be careful with thinking that "a boys introduction to sex" is certainly a positive thing. As I explained, there are several ways in which that introduction can be negative - even sex itself can be viewed as negative.
    – oerkelens
    Nov 18, 2014 at 9:00

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