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I recently made the unfortunate mistake of apologizing for having been "disingenuous" towards a friend. Luckily my friend was generous enough to assume that I had mis-spoken and ask for clarification; because somehow I had gotten the notion that disingenuous was based on the root of generous rather than genuine. While I had been sincere enough in everything I'd said, it was a lack of generosity in repeatedly assuming the worst intentions in everything they did that I needed to be apologizing for.

Since then, I've been wondering if there even is an English word that means what I wanted to say. I've come up with many individual words that apply to one degree or another, but not something that easily sums up the demeanor I was trying to describe.

Is there a single word that would carry the connotation of "always thinking/assuming the worst" in someone, not in the sense of being deliberately malicious but merely in the sense of being distrustful and bitter and hence reading the worst possible connotations into every situation?

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5 Answers 5

Cynicism: Assumption of the worst about people or the outcome of events.

There is a small difference between cynicism and pessimism. A cynic assumes the worst, but analyses to find if the worst is true. A pessimist, on the other hand, is negative right from the start to the finish, and may not necessarily delve to find if his assumption is true.

Cynicism = skeptical objectivity - Trust but verify. Pessimism = negative subjectivity - It may not be so.

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I think rather that cynicism is used to describe the basic belief that humans act solely out of self-interest without thought for others. – Jim Mar 6 '12 at 8:29

I'd call that pessimism.

an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome

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According to wiktionary, a cynic is a person "who believes that all people are motivated by selfishness" or "whose outlook is scornfully negative." This is a bit different than what you asked about, even though the previously-suggested word cynicism is right on-target because it includes among its several senses "an emotion of jaded negativity, or a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of other people".

Also consider bloody-minded, "behaving in a way that makes things difficult for other people; refusing to be helpful" and paranoid, "exhibiting extreme and irrational fear or distrust of others".

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I don't think that either bloody-minded (BrE?) or paranoid fit the desired meaning (an otherwise normal person who expects the worst in others). I would suggest jaded, realist, or pragmatist. They are not shocked when people behave the way they often do, and are pleasantly surprised when people act well ("do the right thing"). – Phil Perry Jun 26 '14 at 16:38

I would say "negatively biased". Biased means that everything else being equal, the alternative(s) towards which you are biased get higher chance of being selected. As for example, whenever there are two equally likely interpretations of your friends behavior, you tend to pick the one that's more negative.

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Presumptuous comes to mind. The other day I had made an easy simple error at work as to which of two redundant accounts should be closed. I chose the correct one to close but then in the email to the account holder I inadvertently switched the two account numbers. The account holder emailed back saying that the account I told him I had closed was the only one he knows of and uses. Well, his reply first went to a supervisor who assumed that I had significantly erred in my selection of which of the two accounts should be closed and proceeded to tell me in an email all the reasons why my assumed selection was incorrect and then she exclaims "...and BOTH accounts are STILL active!". I replied that it was not a selection error but a simple switch of the numbers (in other words: I know how to do my job.) and that I always wait a day or two after sending a duplicate accounts closure email before I actually close an account because that gives the source time to contact us in the event that an error has been made on our end. She automatically assumed I was essentially incompetent at my job and THEN assumed that I was either lazy or absent-minded or who-knows-what for failing to even close one of the two accounts. She had two ways she could have gone: She could have given me the benefit of the doubt and allowed me to explain or, she could have assumed the worst of me right off the top. She went with the latter which I find rather disconcerting in that it suggests to me that she is someone who not only would never have my back but that she would likely throw me under the bus in a heartbeat...or perhaps that is a bit presumptuous of me?

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Hi @Woody Gogoody, Great answer. It's a good practice to make the word bold and attach a dictionary link to it. We appreciate that here and also it improves your answer! :) – Jony Agarwal Oct 28 at 6:45
Thank you Jony. Note my edits. I appreciate the input. – Woody Gogoody Oct 28 at 8:09

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