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In the chapter 5 of the book Creativity, Inc. the author, Ed Catmull, writes a lot about candor and honesty, but I'm not sure I was able to fully understand what candor means.

Maybe I'm confused because of Portuguese (my native language). In Portuguese we have honesty (Honestidade), sincerity (Sinceridade) and candor (Candura). However this "equivalent" of candor is used much more for innocence. That's the reason I would prefer the term sincerity.

Is there a big difference between those two terms?

  • Note that "sincerity" is often used to describe the appearance of honesty and straight-forwardness, but may simply be a mask for deception. – Hot Licks Jan 19 '18 at 13:55
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    A simplified version: sincerity means "If I say it, it's true", candor means "If it's true, I say it". Although sincerity can also be used to refer to statements that are false, but the speaker really believes are true. – Acccumulation Jan 19 '18 at 20:43
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    @HotLicks I don't ever associate the word sincerity with false appearances. – barbecue Jan 19 '18 at 22:05
  • @barbecue -- books.google.com/… – Hot Licks Jan 20 '18 at 0:16
  • books.google.com/… – Hot Licks Jan 20 '18 at 0:18
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In English, the word candor [candour in many dialects] has come to primarily mean openness and frankness, and a tendency to tell harsh truths. The OED defines it as:

Freedom from reserve in one's statements; openness, frankness, ingenuousness, outspokenness.

Sincerity does mean something similar, but it doesn't generally have the "tendency to tell harsh truths" connotation.

Freedom from dissimulation or duplicity; honesty, straightforwardness.

In other words, I would use candor to describe someone who speaks up about harsh truths without necessarily being asked. Sincerity would describe someone who can be relied upon to tell the truth when asked, though they might not speak up on their own. (This is why candor is not always viewed positively, since it can cause social friction; whereas sincerity is generally seen as an unalloyed virtue.)


Aside: To my surprise, the use of candor to mean

Stainlessness of character; purity, integrity, or innocence.

(which would seem to be the fashion it is used in Portuguese) can be found in older English texts, though the OED now considers this usage "obsolete".

  • Sincerity does not have much to do with the content of what is said. It has more to do with one's intentions when saying or doing something. – Eric Jan 19 '18 at 19:17
  • Interesting; although I've not seen the word used in a very long time, at least for me, it has something of a positive connotation, which doesn't jive with the "tendency to tell harsh truths" you mention. Is there a lot of variation in the meaning, or have I just learned the wrong meaning? – errantlinguist Jan 19 '18 at 23:37
  • @errantlinguist, I think you've learned the wrong meaning. "Candid" photos, for example, are unposed pictures that might be unflattering – user70585 Jan 19 '18 at 23:51
  • @JohnDoe to me, "candid" and "candour" are only vaguely related, and "candid" when applied to a person is positive as well anyway: "She's a very candid person". – errantlinguist Jan 20 '18 at 0:10
  • @Michael Seifert I don't completely agree. Someone could be completely sincere while giving you advice you didn't ask for. And "candor" doesn't have to be harsh whatsoever. Sincere implies honesty. You'd need some type of modifier to, well, modify that: Faux sincerity. Candor implies talk which is not modified by politeness - possibly a harsh truth, but not necessarily. The type of speech used between friends could be described as candor. I'd say "candor" is open, unveiled, direct, and/or unregulated speech. – Terry Wendt Jan 20 '18 at 10:25
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'Sincerity' is being truthful in what is said; candour is the willingness to say what is truthful.

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    So pithy and appropriate I won't downvote, but ELU generally expects supporting evidence to accompany answers. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 19 '18 at 15:13
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    Very apt way of summing it up +1 – beeshyams Jan 19 '18 at 17:16
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    Probably the strongest unctied single-sentence answer I've seen on here. – William Grobman Jan 19 '18 at 18:23
  • @Ross Murray Kudos, this really is one of the best answers I've ever seen! It's incomplete, and it's not always correct - but it's a great answer. I'd say replace truth with honest... And being "sincere" is only being "true" about how one "feels" about something - it doesn't imply that what one is being sincere about is actually true. And candor shouldn't be construed as, or conflated with "truth". – Terry Wendt Jan 20 '18 at 10:56
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In French, too, "candeur" is very strongly associated with youth. The word kind of presupposes that children and young people are honest because they are ignorant of the ways of the world. So you could define "candeur" as honesty by default. I am not quite sure that English usage really bears this out, especially modern English usage, which seems to mean, rather than direct honesty, "lack of dishonest intentions".

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    Your answer would be greatly improved if you supplied sources for your information. I think this a good answer if citations were supplied. – J. Taylor Jan 21 '18 at 1:07
  • Larousse says that French candeur is a noun meaning “le caractère d'une personne candide”, which arguably just moves the goal post as we look up what a candid person is in French. :) It’s a person “qui manifeste une grande ingénuité allant jusqu'à la crédulité,” for all that helps. – tchrist Jan 21 '18 at 1:19
  • @tchrist -- The example is rather old, but one may think of the character of 'Candide' in Voltaire's work of that name. Candide seems to have been credulous enough to accept Dr Pangloss's contention, that in spite of the terrible things seen right before his eyes, 'all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds'! So yes, I suspect that in French, 'candide' probably does not mean the same as 'candid' in English. – terry-s Jan 21 '18 at 10:04

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