[Ads-l] an incredulous reversal (or reversion?)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Oct 2 15:12:39 UTC 2015

An article in today's Yale Daily News describes the charges against a Yale Med School professor for with multiple counts of sexual assault and sex discrimination and his countersuits on the grounds of defamation and emotional distress.  Dr. Mahnensmith has dismissed the claims that he "touched a female plaintiff inappropriately" on various occasions, that he "thrust his pelvis in a sexual manner" at other plaintiffs, and that he "made sexual comments and created a hostile work environment" as "easily explainable misunderstandings"--a misinterpretation of the exercises he was doing to reduce the pain from his sciatica--and an example of "the 'collective torment' he was subjected to by the plaintiffs".   The lawyer representing six of the the plaintiffs responded as follows:

"Dr. Mahnensmith's allegations against the individual plaintiffs I represent are baseless and incredulous."

So it's the allegations that are incredulous, not her (or our) assessment of them.  Perhaps this shift results in part from the amelioration over the decades of "incredible", which now signifies what is literally not credible less often than it does what is unbelievably great.  

In any case, I was interested to discover that the OED does have a relevant (object- rather than subject-oriented) sense for "incredulous" with cites back to Shakespeare, but labels it "Obs.":

2a. [with the dagger of death] Not to be believed; = incredible adj. Obs.

a1616   Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) iii. iv. 78   No obstacle, no incredulous or vnsafe circumstance.
1631   J. Weever Anc. Funerall Monuments 554   Miracles..will be thought incredulous in this age.
1646   Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica vii. xviii. 380   Unto some it hath seemed incredulous what Herodotus reporteth of the great Army of Xerxes.

The most recent OED cite for this sense is from 1750.  So attorney Zito was simply being Shakespearean.


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