There’s a lot of worry about credibility these days. While some statements are so incredible that only the most credulous will believe them, other people are so incredulous that they trust nothing but what they see with their own eyes, regardless of how credible the source is.
Which means that figuring out the truth is sometimes only slightly more difficult than keeping credible, credulous, incredible, and incredulous straight.
Believable; generally considered reliable
News organizations rise and fall based on how credible their journalists and reporting are. Having a high level of credibility means they have earned more trust. It takes years for a reporter to earn high levels of credibility, but (as Dan Rather, among others, can attest) only a single story to completely destroy it.
In the jargon of military reports, credibility has another meaning: “of sufficient quality or size to be militarily effective,” as in a “credible deterrent.”
Too extraordinary or impossible to believe; hard to believe
Etymologically, incredible is simply credible with the negating prefix in-, so simply “not believable.” But as we have used it hyperbolically more and more over the last four centuries or so, it has taken on the more common meaning of “amazing or astounding” — so much so that noncredible has been gaining ground as an antonym of credible.
Willing to believe, even on flimsy evidence
Of the four words covered here, this is the one you least want to describe you. More than one journalist has been burned by being too credulous when a juicy tidbit lands on their proverbial plate; because they want to believe it, they don’t thoroughly verify the truth or falsity of it before publishing it as fact.
They say there’s a sucker born every minute; those who get sucked in to the snake oil salesman’s schemes the quickest are likely the most credulous of the bunch.
Unwilling to accept a statement as true; skeptical
Although a certain amount of incredulity is healthy, it can be taken to extremes. If a particular person, news organization, or political group has lost all credibility, you are right to be incredulous — to be skeptical of what they say. But when taken too far, it’s a relatively small step from not believing anything they say to believing that everything they say is false, that they are incapable of telling the truth about anything.
Here is a little mnemonic that might help you keep these straight in the future: When it comes to news reporting, credulous and incredulous describe us, the readers, which leaves credible and incredible to describe the journalists and their claims.