Credence

By Maeve Maddox

I started wondering about the use of the word credence when I noticed the following headline on an entertainment news site:

Al Pacino gives credence to James Gunn’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

The noun credence (KREE-dns] usually functions as a synonym for credibility or believability. For example, “The premise of the argument lacks credence.”

As much as I enjoyed the Gunn film, I find nothing believable about a tree creature that wins everyone’s affection by saying the same three words again and again, or a genetically engineered raccoon with anger issues. I decided to find out if credence has another meaning that fits the context of that headline.

Credence belongs to a family of English words that derive from the Latin verb credere, “to believe.” For example:

credo: a religious belief, a guide to behavior.
credible: believable.
credential: official documentation indicating that a person may be trusted.
credit: favorable reputation; trustworthiness in financial matters.
creditable: that which does a person credit, praiseworthy.
credulity: a readiness to believe.
credulous: inclined to believe on the basis of little evidence.

The noun credence occurs most often in the idiom “to lend (or give) credence to”:

“It really gives credence to the live singing in the movie to see them actually do it live onstage,” Meron said.

We seem to live in a celebrity world. A world where being famous has more credence than being brilliant or a good person.

During the McCarthy Era, suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence.

The study lends credence to what scientists have long suspected: “If you want to recover birds, you need to recover the food that they’re eating.”

Less used is the phrase “to pay credence to.” It occurs where the verb “to respect” would usually be clearer and more succinct:

Alas, I am a liberal. I am honour-bound to pay credence to the rantings and ravings of other people and not simply discard them for being ridiculous.

People don’t pay credence to cultural health,” Simmons said. 

Originally, the idea was to pay credence to those in our lives who help us succeed.

University administrators have become more mediators than foes, as they negotiate how to balance the principles of free speech, to which they pay credence, with students’ safety and well-being. 

I continue to puzzle over the headline.

Here are some adjectives that can serve to convey one’s feeling that a thing is believable:

creditable
probable
possible
feasible
reasonable
rational
sound
admirable

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8 Responses to “Credence”

  • Neil Merrick

    “Alas, I am a liberal. I am honour-bound to pay credence to the rantings and ravings of other people and not simply discard them for being ridiculous.” – Is this a quote? If so, where does it come from?

  • Paige Gray

    I think the headline is using “credence” to mean legitimacy or validity. In other words, Pacino gives it “street cred,” with the “street” here being Hollywood.

  • Roberta B.

    The entertainment editor/reporter who used the word “credence” in that headline example probably meant to say: AP gives “kudos” to JG’s “Guardians……….” So, in this case it probably is a malaprop rather than a trend as shown by the examples in which it has been used as a synonym for “respect.” I suspect the word “credence” probably sounded much more credible and probably is a better headline-grabber than “kudos” which has been overused in the entertainment industry and can sound frivolous.

  • ApK

    I would need more context to judge the headline.
    It’s conceivable that something Pacino did or said gave credence to the film…. being an Oscar contender, or being a important vehicle for it’s stars, or being taken seriously as a cinematic work of art, etc…..

  • Martha

    I’m guessing the writer might have been thinking along the lines of gravitas or weight, rather than credence.

  • Roberta B.

    @Martha – That exactly was my second thought. I was going to add that assumption, as well, but thought I’d weigh in on one comment before jumping into my day’s work.

  • Bill Rambo

    Here’s the article: http://www.examiner.com/article/al-pacino-gives-credence-to-james-gunn-s-guardians-of-the-galaxy

    I, like Paige, thought it meant something like “street cred.” But the lede says that “Pacino gave accolades to” the film, apparently to counter accusations that big-time actors look down on non-Oscar-worthy films. not exactly kudos, but saying that there are worthy films that some others might not take seriously.

    “I don’t have much to say about Hollywood because basically a movie is a movie, a film is a film. I don’t know it, and I never did know what Hollywood does. Apparently, it’s in LA. I just saw Guardians Of The Galaxy… It was amazing. I did find it the most entertaining, inventive, beautiful film. So I’m not anti-that at all.”

    So, in the end, it seems to be a bit of both.

  • Maeve

    Neil Merrick
    This response is a bit late, but yes, it’s a quotation. You can find it here:
    https://iamadrainonsociety.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/if-i-admit-that-misandrous-is-an-overused-term-will-you-stop-insulting-me-in-the-name-of-your-cause/

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