Naive and Naivety
A reader asks about the use of the word naivety:
I recently read this in a copy of Nature: “They challenge the naivety of the idea that science, proceeding openly and aloof from its sociopolitical environment, reaches incontrovertible truths by unassailable reason.”
I do not recall ever seeing that use before.
The adjective naive is a badly assimilated French borrowing. Ever since it entered the language as naïve in the seventeenth century, it never has managed to look like an English word, and it presents many English speakers with difficulty in pronunciation and spelling.
No longer spelled with the two dots over the i, naive originally meant “natural and unaffected, artless, or innocent.” Additional meanings that have attached to the word are “showing a lack of experience, judgment, or wisdom; credulous, gullible.”
The earliest citation for the noun naivety in the OED is dated 1709, but the word doesn’t show much life on the Ngram Viewer before the 1960s.
In current usage, some political writers seem to use naive and naivety as euphemisms for ignorant and ignorance.
Naivety is frequently used with the verb expose, as if to imply that being naive is something best concealed.
Sports writers are fond of the words as well, but I’ve yet to figure out exactly what they mean by them. My best guess is overconfident or, perhaps, ill-advised.
To me, naivety implies a belief in the good intentions of others. A judge handing down a sentence in the case of two people who stole from a ninety-year-old couple used the word in this sense:
They allowed you access [to their home] in innocence and naivety and…were repaid by you in taking the only items of value which were on open display.—The Telegraph.
Naive is an appropriate and neutral adjective to describe the innocence and inexperience of a young person. When applied to politicians and business leaders, it takes on a connotation of reproach, even contempt.
Here is a random sampling of naive and naivety as used on the Web:
Exposed: Ron Paul’s Foreign Policy Ignorance and Naivety
Is Stuart Lancaster just a naive coach taking another high-risk gamble?
Manchester City Pay Heavy Price for First-Leg Naivety vs. Barcelona
Is Social Media making Young People Naïve and Unhappy? (Some writers still use the dots.)
For decades, senior executives have used naivety as an excuse when customer data has been stolen.
Was [Chamberlain] just hopelessly naive about Hitler’s Germany and too embroiled in domestic agendas…to handle the run-up to war?
Both naive and naivety are useful words to convey trusting innocence or idealistic expectations. It seems a shame to use them as insults.
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