h1

semantics.

September 1, 2010

Remember a while back when I redid the personality square thing? Well, it inspired my sister to make one for herself. She had some interesting thoughts about it. And since she doesn’t feel the need to share those ideas with everyone, I will.

Take the two words “trustworthy” and “dependable”.  They mean almost the same thing – that if I say I’ll do something, I’ll do it. But my sister picked dependable over trustworthy in her window because she felt that trustworthy implied some sort of honesty. Upon thinking about it more, she determined that in her opinion using the word trustworthy is actually saying more about the speaker than the subject. In other words, someone is trustworthy if you trust them. It’s about your relationship. But someone is dependable if he does what he says he will. It’s about his actions. And yes, in many cases dependable people are trustworthy and in those situations, it’s pretty much the same thing.

But the second thing my sister brought up is how you think about it when a person is then not dependable or not trustworthy. In that case, it is pretty different. As she put it “someone dependable could disappoint you, but someone trustworthy could betray you”. Chances are the trustworthy person would also be disappointing you, but it’s also much more personal.

So I think that most people would choose to describe themselves as dependable over trustworthy. And I wonder if that’s because of the intimacy or relationship that it implies. In my mind, I would never tell someone they should trust me, but I can tell them I’ll keep my word, I’ll get it done, etc. The trusting part is still their decision. They could have crazy high standards and never trust anyone no matter what their actions. Or they could have low standards and trust you right away.

As a total side note, I did google “trustworthy”, “dependable”, “disappoint”, and “betray”. Of course, “trustworthy” and “dependable” are used in each others definitions. Same with “disappoint” and “betray”. So I guess technically speaking they are the same thing. But maybe not semantically?

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5 comments

  1. To me, they both have to do with trust, except “trustworthy” refers to emotional trust, while “dependable” refers to physical trust.

    I.e. Someone who keeps your secret is trustworthy. And someone who picks you up on time at the airport is dependable.

    If I had to choose, I’d rather be considered trustworthy by my friends, but dependable by my boss/co-workers.


    • I think that’s much clearer way to explain what I was trying to get at 🙂


  2. pretty sure anyone who says “you can trust me” is not trustworthy. anytime that’s said in a movie, ominous music starts to play, and everyone watching knows that that person should not be trusted. I think trustworthiness only needs to be talked about when it’s lacking, otherwise it should go without saying. Dependable doesn’t have that same potential for an evil flip-side, so it doesn’t have as much dramatic irony when it’s talked about and then the person disappoints.

    Not that the true meanings of these words should be determined by the imaginary director/author of my life trying to make it into an interesting story, but the repeated literary/dramatic usage certainly impacts my understanding of these words.


    • So “trustworthy” has weird negative connotations? That’s an interesting way of thinking about things.


  3. I could call a piece of machinery, say a Toyota, dependable, but I may not call it trustworthy. If I tell a friend of my personal matters, I must’ve considered the friend trustworthy. So yeah I agree with your sister’s interpretation.



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