I have been marking a whole bunch of essays on children’s literature for the Open University recently. It’s noticeable how many of the students, in wanting to point out that children’s literature tends to use comparatively simple vocabulary, or presents a simple view of the world, or has a simple style, instead use the word simplistic. I think the students who make this mistake are choosing a word that seems more impressive, more academic-sounding and essay-ish; but it is a mistake, of course, for simple and simplistic do not mean the same thing. Simple may be a neutral term or it may be a positive one; but it’s never negative. Simplistic on the other hand is always negative. It means excessively or inappropriately simple; over-simplified; simplified to an extent that implies stupidity or foolishness. The simple life is good. The simplistic life is not.
This got me thinking about the suffix -istic and how it often has negative connotations. Being moral is a good thing, but being moralistic isn’t: it implies fussy or unnecessary moralising. Just so, being paternalist might be OK, but being paternalistic is not. And while being realistic is no bad thing, it is not as good as being real.
I’m not sure how widespread this rule is as I can’t offhand think of any other examples. Can anyone think of any, which either support or controvert my theory?