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Since years I am using "far-fetched" as the english equivalent of the french "farfelu" (my mother tongue is french), never applied to persons, like a mix of "complicated/cranky/scatty", typically in a context of a following type : you have to show a concept, or to make a proof of something, you do one, and the proof is correct, but it is complicated, and there is a "trivial", natural, proof instead. It is not overly complicated though, not complicated enough to make your proof ridiculous at all, but complicated enough to make it slightly funny, knowing the existence of the trivial proof. Then I would say to you : your proof is far-fetched.

For the first time yesterday, I used this expression while talking with a person whose monther-tongue is "american english", and the person felt insulted. After some explications I gave, the person told me that "far afield" was better suited for what I intended - which was something of the type described above.

My question is the following : is "far afield" better suited indeed for what I discussed above ? If not, what would be the best for UK english , for american english ? If yes, is it typically american english or not ?

Thx !

  • 2
    This isn't directly related, but since this an English language learners site... "Since years I am using " is not standard English' "For years I have been using" would be correct. – Kevin Jan 21 '15 at 15:13
  • Thx, you're right indeed ! I'm always mixing since and for – Olorin Jan 21 '15 at 15:28
  • My French isn't too good, but maybe think of since/for more like depuis/pendant. 'for' somehow includes 'during'; 'since' can indicate there may have been a gap. "I've lived in England for 50 years. I haven't been to France since 2012." – Tetsujin Jan 21 '15 at 17:45
  • @Tetsujin Nice ! – Olorin Jan 22 '15 at 1:25
  • Google Translator reports "farfelu" = "wacky" – James Jan 22 '15 at 3:27
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Far-fetched means unlikely. If you say that someone's idea or proof is far-fetched, you are saying that it is unlikely to be correct.

Far afield means distant or wide-ranging. This doesn't quite fit either, at least to my American ear. I expect far afield to describe distance traveled ("I've gone far afield of my home") or a difference between two topics ("I started in biology but now my studies have gone far afield of that, into literature and mathematics").

Perhaps the best adjective I know for this is roundabout, which is an antonym of direct:

circuitous, indirect < had to take a roundabout route >

I might say:

This is quite a roundabout solution; maybe you can think of something a bit shorter? (or: ...something more direct?)

  • Thx a lot for this explication ! – Olorin Jan 21 '15 at 15:35
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@apsillers answer is correct, but let me say it in a slightly different way to convey the connotations.

"Far-fetched" means, as he says, unlikely to be true. Depending on context, it may mean that you think an idea is possible but unlikely, or it may be a polite way of saying that you think it is impossible or ridiculous. Like, scenario 1: "Maybe the president is pursuing this policy because he thinks the majority of the people are for it." "That's pretty far-fetched. Surely he's seen the polls." The theory is unlikely, but maybe the president hasn't seen the polls, or doesn't believe they are accurate. Scenario 2: "Maybe the president is pursuing this policy because he's secretly a Martian planted here to undermine this country as the first step in their invasion plans." "Well, that's ... pretty far-fetched." Your idea is absurd, but because you're my friend I don't want to say you're an idiot.

So yes, saying your friends proof is far-fetched is somewhere between meaningless and insulting. Generally we wouldn't say that a PROOF is far-fetched, only a theory or an idea can be far-fetched. A proof may be flawed, but a proof isn't a fact that can be true or false, it is an argument that can be convincing or unconvincing. I suppose you could say that a proof could be far-fetched in the sense of being unlikely to be VALID, though I think that would be an odd use of the word. But if you did take it that way, then you'd be saying that your friend's proof is extremely unlikely to be valid, i.e. it's a dumb idea.

"Far afield" means far from the center of things or far from where you started. In the literal sense, you could say "I travelled far afield", meaning, "I travelled far from home" or maybe "far from civilization". More often it's used metaphorically, like, "Dr Jones started out doing conventional physics research, but then he wandered far afield into theories about time travel and parallel worlds." Maybe I should clarify that it doesn't have to be that extreme.

I would be unlikely to say that a proof was "far afield", unless maybe it relied on very obscure information. Like if you tried to prove that a theory about current economics is true by using examples from ancient Babylon, I might say, "Wow, you're going pretty far afield to get evidence to back up your theory."

If I was trying to describe the situation you discuss, I think I'd just say, "Well, that proof is more complicated than necessary ..." If you want a single word, yes, "roundabout" would express the idea fairly well.

  • And thx also for the details ! – Olorin Jan 21 '15 at 15:35
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In my neck of the woods (US, mid-Atlantic), far-fetched means "not likely to be true, implausible (often bordering on the ridiculous)".

He gave some far-fetched excuse for being late, something about a piano dropping out of the sixth floor window and landing on his car parked below. But he probably overslept.

You can see from that example that the meaning does spill over into "rather convoluted" in the way that you have been using it, except that the word far-fetched is normally used of stories or explanations — speech-acts that can be said to have the property of (im)plausibility and ask for the listener's belief— which methods, proofs, algorithms, etcetera do not have or do.

  • Thx for the precision ! – Olorin Jan 22 '15 at 1:26

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