It is not quite clear what people mean by saying сложно переоценить. Can anyone explain?
The literal translation would be hard to overestimate, which doesn't make sense.
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Переоценивать has two meanings in Russian:
Now, the phrase сложно (also трудно) переоценить relates to the second meaning above. It means that the subject has such a high value that it is difficult / hard to give a too high value for it. For example: It is hard to overestimate the contribution of this guy to the project. — Трудно переоценить вклад это парня в проект.
There is also a phrase невозможно переоценить, which basically means that the value is so high that it is really impossible to overestimate it. For example, if the project could be completed only due to participation of someone and would have failed without this person, one can say: Невозможно переоценить его участие в проекте.
To understand сложно переоценить, one must first understand the following:
переоценить is not exactly estimate in the sense used in this word. it means literally "to give too much value"; as in if I build something, you come in and tell me how wonderful it is, I can act all modest saying "your giving too much value to it, it's not that great".
сложно переоценить plays an on-contrer on this word, saying it is so great, you can't really give too much value to it. To further explain, this expression is used mainly in literature, emphasizing the contribution, the value something gave to something.