Mistrust vs. Distrust

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  • Lexiphile

    Senior Member
    England English
    If you try using the Dictionary Look-up on these words, you'll find that in most cases the one is used to define the other. M-Webster fails to use distrust as a synonym for mistrust when used as verb, but then goes on to say that distrust can be a verb and means the same as mistrust.

    I don't think you'll find any significant differences, when you do the necessary research, and I can also think of none. I happen to prefer to use mistrust when I want a noun, but I thinks that's a personal preference only.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I tend to use mistrust more generally and more lightly (less offensively) than distrust. If I mistrust someone, I'm suspicious and I don't have a good reason to trust them; if I distrust them I have a good reason, often a very good reason, not to trust them. I don't know if this usage is general.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I tend to use mistrust more generally and more lightly (less offensively) than distrust. If I mistrust someone, I'm suspicious and I don't have a good reason to trust them; if I distrust them I have a good reason, often a very good reason, not to trust them. I don't know if this usage is general.
    I've always thought of them this way, too, TT.
     

    loladamore

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Oxford and Cambridge agree that the two are synonyms as far as the noun is concerned, whereas their definitions of the verbs enter into conflict:

    to mistrust = to have no trust in (Oxford); to have doubts about (Cambridge)
    to distrust = to have little trust in (Oxford); to have no trust in (Cambridge)

    "Authorities" notwithstanding, my personal usage is in agreement with that of Thomas and James.
     

    mannoushka

    Senior Member
    Iran/Persian
    … I will focus on what I consider to be the strongest and most interesting common point of reference between the two. This is their common distrust of, yet fascination with, the workings of memory, as well as the construction of a personal sense of selfhood … .

    … [Early developers] are an embarrassment to the natural social order, and malicious good health feeds on the danger which threatens them, just as society mistrusts them as the visible negation of the equalization of success and exertion.


    Is there a difference in meaning between dis- and mistrust within the contexts provided above?



    Personally I think 'distrust' must mean 'not trust', whereas 'mistrust' seems to signify 'trust for the wrong reasons', 'make a mistake by trusting'. Could I be wrong, though? Are the two words perhaps interchangeably used in real situations?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There's a pretty full answer to this question here, Mannoushka, with extracts from dictionaries and usage manuals.

    I would agree with the view that to distrust is stronger and more open than mistrust. If you distrust someone, they are likely to be conscious of the fact, whereas this might not be the case if you mistrust them.
     

    mannoushka

    Senior Member
    Iran/Persian
    Now I realize that I should have distinguished between the two words in this way:

    To me, "distrust" just means "not trust", "mistrust", "mistakenly distrust".

    Anyway, thank you Thomas!
     
    Mannoushka, I think you may have misunderstood. "Mistrust" does not mean "mistakenly distrust." To say that you have mistakenly distrusted someone means that you should have trusted them; you made a mistake in feeling distrust toward them. That is not what "mistrust" means. As the comments above point out, "mistrust" is basically synonymous with "distrust," although many people would say that it is slightly less strong.

    Neither word has anything to do with whether you are mistaken or correct in your mis- or distrust.
     

    mannoushka

    Senior Member
    Iran/Persian
    Mannoushka, I think you may have misunderstood. "Mistrust" does not mean "mistakenly distrust." To say that you have mistakenly distrusted someone means that you should have trusted them; you made a mistake in feeling distrust toward them. That is not what "mistrust" means. As the comments above point out, "mistrust" is basically synonymous with "distrust," although many people would say that it is slightly less strong.

    Neither word has anything to do with whether you are mistaken or correct in your mis- or distrust.
    Edgy, I see now. For a moment I really was sure I was no longer confused! Now I'm confused about what could have made me so sure!

    There are no verbs for 'mis-distrust', while the two words in question are synonymous, though there may be nuances.

    Many thanks!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think it misleading to talk of them as synonyms. I remember an Indian holy man leaving a house in Pakistan to walk into Afghanistan and being offered some sandwiches by our host for the journey. I was impressed by his reply: I do not wish to carry sandwiches of mistrust with me into Afghanistan.

    Distrust would have been quite wrong there.

    There's an important difference between failing to do something and doing its opposite.
     
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    mannoushka

    Senior Member
    Iran/Persian
    I think it misleading to talk of them as synonyms. I remember an Indian holy man leaving a house in Pakistan to walk into Afghanistan and being offered some sandwiches by our host for the journey. I was impressed by his reply: I do not wish to carry sandwiches of mistrust with me into Afghanistan.

    Distrust would have been quite wrong there.

    There's an important difference between failing to do something and doing its opposite.
    Your post helps in more ways than one; just as an example, I was also under the (wrong) impression that 'mistrust' cannot be used as a noun! But 'sandwiches of mistrust' is just incredible! Thank you indeed!
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings

    In pursuit of an old hobbyhorse, I have found and now resurrect this thread.

    I have read it throughout, with interest of course, but none of the answers offered has been satisfactory - and nor are many dictionary definitions either, so let us establish:

    1. "distrust" = "have no(t) trust/faith/credence" in or towards something or someone. "I distrust that man because he usually tells lies"
    2. "mistrust" = "misplace trust/faith/credence" in someone or something. "I mistrusted what the insurance-salesman told me. He told me lies [but at the time I mistakenly believed what he said]".

    These words are in no way synonyms, and it is regrettable that the careless written and spoken English of journalists and others has confused this precious distinction.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    What evidence do you have for this, Scholiast? The OED, for one, doesn't admit the possibility of your definition for 'mistrust', and gives examples going back to Chaucer etc. Presumably Shakespeare - 'I will never mistrust my wife again' (Merry Wives of Windsor, V.v.132) - is not being 'careless' with the word (and the problem in MWW was certainly not that the speaker, Ford, had 'misplaced trust' in his wife).
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello Scholiast,

    I can see the attraction of the view that to mistrust is to mistakenly trust, on an analogy with words like misunderstand and misdescribe and many other words with this prefix, but I've not come across this usage. Have you found it in a dictionary, Scholiast?

    I don't think we should try to establish anything which is not correct.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings, Gwan [#16] and Thomas Tompion [#17]

    Sorry to be "clerkly", but "Only a dishonest varlet" can "show me now declensions", and "prithee, no more prattlings"

    I shall betake myself to metheglins with a Welsh goat and some "snow eringoes" to demonstrate that this was Shakespeare's joke:

    "And I will never mistrust my wife again till thou art
    Able to woo her in good English".
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Or, to take another example:

    Rosalind in As You Like It gives almost a definition of how she understands mistrust, here:


    Act I, Scene 3, ln 460.

    Frederick:
    Thus do all traitors;
    If their purgation did consist in words,
    They are as innocent as grace itself.
    Let it suffice thee that I trust thee not.

    Rosalind: Yet your mistrust cannot make me a traitor.

    For her it clearly means not to trust rather than to trust mistakenly. I don't think there can be any question of irony.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    "And I will never mistrust my wife again till thou art
    Able to woo her in good English".
    I think the previous line makes it clear that "mistrust" here means "doubt", not "mistakenly trust":


    SIR HUGH EVANS: And leave your jealousies too, I pray you.
    FORD: I will never mistrust my wife again till thou art able to woo her in good English.
     

    Gwan

    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    I shall betake myself to metheglins with a Welsh goat and some "snow eringoes" to demonstrate that this was Shakespeare's joke:

    "And I will never mistrust my wife again till thou art
    Able to woo her in good English".
    The joke certainly isn't that Ford is denigrating his own poor English by using the word 'mistrust' wrongly, if that's what you're suggesting (if that's not what you're suggesting, then I don't see your point). He's simply saying he won't dis/mistrust his wife until Evans (who is portrayed as mangling - or in Falstaff's words, making 'fritters of' - English) can speak English properly i.e. probably never.

    I take it that you don't have any evidence for your interpretation of the meaning.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    1. [...]
    2. "mistrust" = "misplace trust/faith/credence" in someone or something. "I mistrusted what the insurance-salesman told me. He told me lies [but at the time I mistakenly believed what he said]".
    OED:
    mistrust: 2. trans.
    a. To have no confidence in, be suspicious of (a person); to suspect the actions, intentions, or motives of.
    [...]
    a1616 Shakespeare Merry Wives of Windsor (1623) v. v. 132, I will neuer mistrust my wife againe, till thou art able to woo her in good English.
    It is a great pity that Scholiast's definition is not so - it should be
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Another quotation from Shakespeare, this one from Samuel Johnson's dictionary under his definition of "mistrust":
    By a divine instinct men's minds mistrust
    Ensuing danger, as by proof we see
    The water swell before a boisterous storm.
    (Richard the Third)
    ... is also inconsistent with Scholiast's definition, if only because we would not attribute a misplaced trust to a divine instinct.

    I think that TT's post #3 perfectly captures the distinction between mistrust and distrust. When I encounter someone for the first time, I might mistrust him because of his shifty eyes or evasiveness, but I wouldn't distrust him without evidence of deceit or treachery.

    I can understand Scholiast's misgivings, since the prefix "mis-" is at odds with its usual meaning ("mistakenly" or "wrongly") in words such as "mistake", "mislead", or "misuse". But the anomaly cannot be blamed on the "careless .. English of journalists and others".
     
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    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Greetings everyone

    In the light of the weight of persuasive testimony from elsewhere in the Bard (thanks, particularly PaulQ and Pertinax), I concede the field - with, however, this reservation only: lexicographers have a duty descriptively to record actual usage, even when it is "incorrect" by the standards of more finely tuned or pedantic linguistic sensibilities. Arguably one should therefore expect the next OED to include the egregious Sarah Palin's "refudiate", as well as more common confusions such as those between "infer" and "imply" or "mitigate" and "militate".
     
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