Tuesday, November 20, 2007


From William Safire's column in the past weekend's New York Times:

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe asked Senator Barack Obama about the response of Senator Hillary Clinton to a question about releasing her First Lady papers. Obama’s choice of a word: “inadequate.” Newsweek: “So is she being honest?” Obama: “I think she was being disingenuous.” Newsweek: “What’s the difference between disingenuous and dishonest?” Obama, sticking with his euphemism to avert an excessively harsh charge: “You’ll have to ask her.”

Synonymy is my business. To define the difference, first drop the dises. Honest we all know means “truthful; sincere.” Ingenuous was coined in 1599 to mean “noble” and came to mean “frank; candid; straightforward.” Today, dishonest means “fraudulent; possibly criminal,” while disingenuous is considerably milder, meaning “unfair; slippery; lacking in candor.” Score one for Obama in avoiding a lexical trap.

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