"…harder said than done"?

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Scalar inversion of the week — Jon Christian, "Elon Musk fans horrified when his Grok AI immediately 'goes woke'", Futurism 12/9/2023:

The woke mind virus appears to be coming from inside the house.

Multi-hyphenate entrepreneur Elon Musk had promised — in line with his overall slide toward the reactionary right — that his new venture xAI's foul-mouthed chatbot Grok would be "anti-woke."

The only problem? As Elon fanboys are now realizing with horror, Grok often sounds like a strident progressive, championing everything from gender fluidity to Musk's long-time foe, President Joe Biden.


We've seen this play out over and over for every tech company that's dabbled in the tech, from OpenAI to Microsoft to Alphabet to Amazon to Meta.

But it's particularly striking for Musk, whose primary approach to AI so far has been to criticize how others are doing it. He's trashed his former compatriots at OpenAI, for instance, for what he says amounts to muzzling ChatGPT against telling what he would style as harsh political truths.

What the SpaceX and Tesla CEO appears to now be learning in real time is that crafting an AI in your ideological image is harder said than done.    [emphasis added]

The standard cliché/collocation is "easier said than done", meaning that something that's easy to describe (or promise) can be hard to accomplish.

It's possible to imagine something that's harder to talk about than to do, but that's not what the author means in this case — or in any of the other examples that I've found on line. Rather, this is like "fail to miss", "cannot be underestimated", or the famous "no head injury is too trivial to ignore", and other misnegations involving the inversion of scalar predicates. There's no overt lexical or morphological negation here, just the inversion of the comparative easierharder.

A few examples:

[link] At the advent of the streaming age, studios like Disney put all of their efforts into increasing subscriber numbers…but now that they’ve done that, they’re more interested in making money. And it ends up that this is harder said than done under this model.


[link] Another element that helps the Castle o-line stay ahead is their intelligence. Getting the right call at the line in a complex blocking scheme is much harder said than done.

[link] When picking a cereal, I recommend trying to find one that contains a decent amount of fibre and protein and one that is low in sugar… this can be harder said than done.


Update — A follow-up article by the same author reports that "Elon Musk's Grok AI turns on its creator, completely trashes Elon". The alleged algo-roast was posted on bluesky, so in case you haven't gotten an invite code yet, here's a screenshot:


  1. Scott Mauldin said,

    December 9, 2023 @ 4:09 pm

    I'm reminded of a video game, Baldur's Gate, in which one of the possible character voices can say the snarky line "simpler done than said" when you command him to do something, meaning basically "I'm so skillful that I can do it more easily than you can even ask". The interesting part however is that when I put the game in French, the line was (mis)translated as "plus facile à dire qu'à faire" – "easier to say than to do/easier said than done", by far the more common phrase but the exact opposite of what was meant in the game.

  2. JPL said,

    December 9, 2023 @ 4:22 pm

    What's the matter with "harder done than said", if they wanted an inversion? (Or "harder to do than say", in more contemporary AE usage.)

  3. postmortes said,

    December 9, 2023 @ 4:48 pm

    Perhaps there's a conflation here with the fairly standard "Harder than it sounds"? Maybe the writer starts with 'easier said than done; but wants to emphasize hard, turns to 'harder than it sounds' but rejects it because it's writing and not speaking, and so ends up in a quagmired middle-ground?

  4. JPL said,

    December 9, 2023 @ 7:27 pm

    In addition to the "easier said than done" link above, we could have this, an earworm of which this post activated:


  5. Roscoe said,

    December 9, 2023 @ 10:26 pm

    Piet Hein, “Lilac Time”:

    The lilacs are flowering, sweet and sublime,
    with a perfume that goes to the head;
    and lovers meander in prose and rhyme,
    trying to say —
    for the thousandth time —
    wha's easier done than said.

  6. Philip Anderson said,

    December 10, 2023 @ 6:21 am

    Maybe the writers started with wanting to say something was hard, harder to do than to say (which is unexceptionable), then tidied this up to “harder done than said”? That just doesn’t sound right to me, and I can imagine my brain automatically correcting the order to “harder said than done”.

  7. Cervantes said,

    December 10, 2023 @ 10:03 am

    I think what's going on here must be an elision. "Harder (than) said (would make it seem to be) done." But basically, no, it doesn't make sense.

  8. AntC said,

    December 10, 2023 @ 11:09 pm

    The alleged algo-roast …

    Gosh! If that really was put together purely by an algorithm, I'm gonna havtə revise my rating of their abilities. (I'm not sure it achieved the "be vulgar", but I guess it's somewhat de-tuned towards that objective.)

    Idiomatic, punning, snarky. (The extended "bull in a china shop" metaphor is a bit too far-stretched IMO.) Many of those snarky phrases are already a thing on the interwebz, but full marks for stitching them together hermeneutically and indeed sealing them hermetically.

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