From Latin diffīdentiam (distrust), from diffīdere (to mistrust), from dis- and fīdere (to trust). Attested since ∼1400. The original sense was antonymous with confidence, and the modern sense of ‘distrusting oneself’ dates from the 1650s.[1]



diffidence (countable and uncountable, plural diffidences)

  1. The state of being diffident, timid or shy; reticence or self-effacement.
    • 1815, Jane Austen, Emma, volume I, chapter 15:
      Without scruple—without apology—without much apparent diffidence, Mr. Elton, the lover of Harriet, was professing himself her lover.
    • 1857, Brigham Young, Journal of Discources, Attention and Reflection Necessary to An Increase of Knowledge, etc.
      I have the same diffidence in my feelings that most public speakers have, and am apt to think that others can speak better and more edifying than I can.
    • 1897, José María de Pereda, translated by William Henry Bishop, Cleto's Proposal to Sotileza (an excerpt from Sotileza)
      "I was passing by," he began to stammer, trembling with his diffidence, "I—happened to be passing along this way, and so—er—as I was passing this way, I says to myself, says I, 'I'll just stop into the shop a minute.'
    • 1986, John le Carré, A Perfect Spy:
      And Rick with unwonted diffidence had accepted his exclusion. Now with the same diffidence he came, looking trim and loving and mysteriously humble.
  2. (obsolete) Mistrust, distrust, lack of confidence in someone or something.
    • 1591, William Shakespeare, Henry VI part I, act 3 scene 3
      [Charles, King of France]: We have been guided by thee hitherto,
      And of thy cunning had no diffidence:
      One sudden foil shall never breed distrust.
    • 1649, J[ohn] Milton, chapter XII, in ΕΙΚΟΝΟΚΛΆΣΤΗΣ [EIKONOKLASTES] [], London: [] Matthew Simmons, [], OCLC 1044608640, page 122:
      [...] [H]ee had brought the Parliment into ſo juſt a diffidence of him, as that they durſt not leave the Public Armes to his diſpoſal [...]

Related termsEdit



  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2021), “diffidence”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.