Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor


Episode 113: Street Cred

This week on Grammar Grater, we're looking at a trio of words that share a common root and all have something to do with some aspect of belief, trust or worth. Those words are credible, creditable and credulous.

According to the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, all of these words have as their root the Latin verb credere, which means "to believe". That makes credible a good place to start. According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, credible is an adjective that means:

believable; worthy of belief or support

Here's credible used in context:

Dave's story seemed credible.
The police brought forward a credible witness.

The opposite of credible is incredible, which the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines as:

Not credible; cannot be believed.

Here's incredible being used in this strict sense.

The jury dismissed the fabricated evidence as incredible.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary notes that incredible is also used colloquially, meaning:

Hard to believe; of exceedingly great quantity, quality, etc.; surprising.

Here's the slang sense of incredible in action:

Make sure you try the chocolate cake; it's incredible!

Let's move on to creditable. According to Fowler's Modern English Usage, creditable is an adjective that means:

Bringing credit or honor; deserving praise

Here's an example:

Tim finished a creditable second place in the 100-meter dash.

Finally, we come to credulous. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines the adjective credulous as follows:

disposed to believe too readily

Gordon Jarvie, in the Bloomsbury Grammar Guide, defines credulous as meaning gullible. Here's an example:

The credulous librarian believed the man's story that a dog had eaten his overdue book.

Finally, it's important to mention that the word incredulous is defined by the Shorter OED as an adjective that means:

unwilling to believe; skeptical

Here's an example:

When Mary described the size of the fish she caught, I was incredulous.

In sum:

credible = believable
creditable = worthy of merit or honor
credulous = gullible

Music from this episode: "Wrong Side of the Road" by Tom Waits, "Watching the Detectives" by Elvis Costello.

Sources: Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology by Robert K Barnhart; Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Sixth Edition); Bloomsbury Grammar Guide by Gordon Jarvie; Fowler's Modern English Usage by RW Burchfield

MPR News

Listen Now

Other Radio Streams from MPR

Classical MPR
Radio Heartland