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Why can someone be intrepid but not trepid ?

The Free Dictionary and Merriam-Webster both consider trepid to be a real word, but my computer’s little spell-checker program does not recognize it as such.

Why can’t someone be trepid, despite the fact that one can feel trepidation?

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I don't understand the basis of your question. The authoritative sources you reference show it IS a word, but you're thrown because it isn't included in your word processor's limited dictionary? –  Robert Cartaino Nov 16 '11 at 15:12
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Check out the answer to this question english.stackexchange.com/questions/27563/… for a few more examples of "Words With Uncommon Positive Forms" –  JeffSahol Nov 17 '11 at 1:20
    
@JeffSahol: Thanks. I like it. –  Ross Millikan Nov 17 '11 at 1:25
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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Etymonline says that trepidus is Latin for scared; and trepid does/did appear to be a word, as per Merriam-Webster. Google Ngrams tell us that trepid has decreased in use ever since the 1800s. So trepid was a word at one point, and still is (technically), but its popularity is continually decreasing; essentially, it's obsolete. For some reason, trepidation is still widely used, but that's one of the quirks of the English language; words are always going "out of style" or becoming obsolete.

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Amusingly, according to Google Ngrams intrepid has dropped by a factor 15 since 1800, not too different from trepid, but I feel a huge difference in acceptability. I would expect native speakers to recognize intrepid and figure out trepid. –  Ross Millikan Nov 16 '11 at 4:52
    
@RossMillikan You can see here on Ngrams that while trepid and intrepid had both been dropping, intrepid remained more popular and trepidation stayed relatively constant. Until recently, when both intrepid and trepidation have begun to rise. On Google Trends, you can see that intrepid is vastly more popular. –  called2voyage Sep 12 '13 at 20:34
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One can be trepid, but it's archaic. English has a lot of obsolete words like this, where a derivative is in common use but the root has fallen out of favour.

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One can. At least, one could in 1859 when Thackeray wrote in 'The Virginians', The poor little trepid creature, panting and helpless under the great eyes. It is, however, as Optimal Cynic suggests, rare.

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With some of these obsolete words, I think it's worth a shot to at least try to bring them back into use. I think trepid is the sort of word that sounds nice - personal opinion, and it would be nice to start using it. Enough people start to put it in, and and an Ngram in 2016 might show an upward graph.

I'm told that 'thrice' is obsolete in the UK. It's apparently treated like 'thou' and 'trice.' I'm from India, and we use it at the drop of a hat.

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Seconded; now forming the Organisation for the Advancement of Thrice. I do not feel trepid about it. –  Tynam May 25 '12 at 14:55
    
What’s wrong with trice, pray tell? :) You mean as a stand-alone word? Well, maybe: people no longer apprehend what it means as a loose word. But even though I’m neither Dutch nor Chaucer, nor even a sailor, me I’d be quick to use it in a trice — albeit admittedly only in that one frozen phrase alone. –  tchrist Aug 17 '13 at 17:13
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