A reader wants to know if there is a difference between the words mistrust and distrust.
The short answer is, “No.”
As verbs, both distrust and mistrust mean, “to be without confidence.”
As nouns, both distrust and mistrust mean, “lack of trust or confidence.”
The Google Ngram Viewer graph shows distrust as the more common of the two words since 1800.
When I entered various phrases, the ones that began with distrust were more common than the ones with mistrust–with one curious exception: “mistrust my wife” was more common than “distrust my wife.” And neither “mistrust my husband” nor “distrust my husband” brought up any results at all.
I predict that mistrust will eventually drop out of general use. I base my prediction on the fact that a red squiggly line appears under mistrust when I type a phrase with it into the Google search box. Another clue is that the search results come up prefaced with the question, “Do you mean distrust?”
The only possible distinction I can discern between mistrust and distrust is that mistrust is a slightly “softer” word that may imply some doubt that the lack of trust is justified.
Here are some examples of current usage of these synonyms:
Marilyn’s insecurity made her mistrust everyone.
Gen Halvorson can’t resist reaching out to the little boy, despite his father’s obvious mistrust of her talents and her motives.
Politics has become static in America, and Americans have always distrusted politicians.
I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. –Susan B. Anthony
Research has found we distrust those who are mean with their money.
Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives believing that humans are selfish by nature.