I was reading Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey yesterday when a sentence kinda stood out as incongruent. The protagonist has an altercation in the hallway with a supercilious, condescending, rude and sardonic man. These are all words she uses to describe him, before going on to say, “She’d been furious with him, and yet her anger had been partially fed by his diffidence…”
Diffidence? I thought. I don’t think she’s used the correct word there. I mean, nothing in his described manner had seemed diffident in the slightest. Then, just to check, I tapped the word to look at the definition.
modesty or shyness resulting from a lack of self-confidence.
“I say this with some diffidence”
synonyms: shyness, bashfulness, unassertiveness, modesty, modestness, self-effacement, humility, humbleness, meekness, timidity, timidness, timorousness, reserve, reticence, introversion.
Um, what? That is not what I expected. Is this dictionary insane, or have I just been wrong all these years? For that matter, hasn’t Anne McCaffrey also got it wrong? I mean, that character was the exact opposite of modest or shy or lacking self confidence. The literal opposite.
But that’s why I looked it up in the dictionary: because I was sure she had gotten it wrong. I was right, only, I also had it wrong. All this time I thought diffident meant nonchalant, unconcerned, apathetic. I’d never looked it up before obviously, just kind of picked up a meaning from reading it in context. Unfortunately that meaning was way off.
All those people I thought were being indifferent were actually being timid. wtf my mind is blown what is with this evil word.