• diffidence •
dif-ê-dents • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Lack of self-confidence, self-doubt. 2. Modesty, shyness.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the noun from the adjective diffident. It is the antonym of confidence and is based on an old verb diffide "lack confidence or faith (in)" as confide once meant "to have confidence in". It looks and sounds quite a bit like difference and deference, so be careful to keep these three away from one another.
In Play: Although "lack of self-confidence" today carries a derogatory tinge, the meaning of this word is quite neutral and can even be used with a hint of the positive: "Arnold turned down the offer to become president of the company out of diffidence in his ability to please everyone." That sense extends to the point of suggesting simple shyness: "Ingrid's diffidence in public led her to spend most of her time in libraries, where she amassed an enormous knowledge of the world."
Word History: This word comes to us from Latin diffiden(t)s, the present participle of the verb diffidere "to mistrust", composed of dis- "not, un-" + fidere "to trust". The noun of the verb fidere is the fidelis "faithful, true" we hear in the Marine Corps motto, Semper fidelis "Always Faithful" and in the title of the Christmas carol, Adeste fideles "O, Come all ye Faithful". What better word to name your true and faithful dog than Fido, also based on fidere. The root of fidere goes back to Proto-Indo-European bheidh- "trust, confide", which descended to English as bide "wait", abide "tolerate", and abode "home", all about as semantically distant from its ancestor as phonologically.
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