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I can think of numerous terms for varying degrees of distrust: mistrust, suspicion, wariness, caution, etc; I can also think of numerous terms for very high degrees of trust: faith, confidence, conviction, etc.

However, try as I might, I can neither think of nor find any single words for varying, low degrees of positive trust; that is, single words which carry similar or identical meaning to phrases such as "potentially trustworthy", "moderately trusting", or "slightly trustful".

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    Do you have some examples? Lando Calrissian? Benedict Arnold? A part that has operated for 40,000 cycles with a mean time to failure of 50,000 cycles?
    – user662852
    Commented Oct 3, 2020 at 4:09
  • That friend one has who usually pays back money, or the parts manufacturer that usually sends sound parts, but it's good to test them before installation. "Chaotic good" characters (in the D&D sense of the term) would also fit the bill, since you know they're generally well intentioned but it's impossible to predict exactly how they'll respond to a given situation. Commented Oct 8, 2020 at 22:44
  • "He's okay" is vaguely positive. I worked at a department store and asked a watch vendor what to say to a shopper about an awful watch he was interested in. She told me to say "It's okay." Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 4:51
  • Is "potentially trustworthy" really positive? It sounds like it means "potentially untrustworthy". Does it mean you can trust 10%, 50%, 80% of the time? "Slightly trustworthy" is even more negative. Maybe you mean someone you'd lend a book to, not necessarily expecting to get it back, which again isn't really trusting them, it's just valuing their friendship enough to risk the book.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 31, 2021 at 20:08
  • Hopeful or optimistic suggest that you don't necessarily trust fully them but you see some possibility that they might do it. Not very hopeful about this suggestion though.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 28, 2021 at 19:36

5 Answers 5

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semireliable / semi-reliable (adj.)

(chiefly computing) Partly or somewhat reliable; having a fair degree of reliability. Wiktionary

Words like reliable: semireliable definition.org


Earliest example found:

After the fall of the glorious Icelandic Republic...the Sagas subsequently drifted down into only semi-reliable records; and later were little less historical than the half-fiction, half-fact of the Sagawriter of modern times—Sir Walter Scott. George Browning; The Edda Songs and Sagas of Iceland (1876)


I have been informed on semireliable authority that the irrigating canals of central Asia , situated in the cotton-growing districts , are being very considerably extended and improved; ... US Bureau of Foreign Commerce; Special Consular Reports (1891)

But until it can be procured in some reliable or semireliable form this will be impossible. Annual Report of the State Pathology Laboratory p.135 (1899)

This semireliable narrator is the most difficult to detect because he is the source of both trustworthy and misleading information. Linda Willem; Galdós's Segunda Manera (1998)

Besides, do you really want to decide whether you should remain married to a cheating spouse on the basis of a semireliable skin test? Kenneth Rosenberg; Infidelity (2018)

The C18 biography itself, however, undercuts its argument for government sabotage by describing Donaldson's car earlier in the biography, calling it a “semireliable automobile that just about managed to get him from A to B” as a way of ... Kirsten Dyck; Reichsrock (2017)

Road from Phari to Lachen/Lachung is also reported to be nearing completion (semi-reliable source). Claude Arpi; The End of an Era (2020)

The specification allows the user to determine whether multicast transfers are unreliable or semireliable. Dave Kosiur; IP Multicasting (1998)

Dennis was acting fidgety. I put him on license-plate duty. It gave him something to do. It gave me a semireliable sentry—scouring the passing jumble of numbers and letters for the ones we needed to rear. James Siegel; Deceit (2006)

After a documented analysis of the seven major forecasting domains, however, its author, William Sherden (1998) concluded that the forecasts that are commonly used as a basis for planning and strategy are only semireliable. Jaap van Ginneken; Collective Behaviour and Public Opinion (2003)

Other semireliable prosodic and phonological cues accompanied the phrasestructure grammar: word length, stress, and pitch. Scott Johnson; Neoconstructivism: The New Science of Cognitive Development (2009)

Directly across two-lane Sunrise Highway Highway S1 is the start of Noble Canyon Trail, which strikes west–southwest only 50 yards to a semireliable water supply. Laura Randall; Pacific Crest Trail (2020)

A nearby spring provides a semireliable water source. D. Lillard and G. Hicks; Exploring the Appalachian Trail (2013)


Should you need it, there is:

semireliably (adv.)

Although absence of evidence might not be evidence of absence, the fact that left IFG involvement was observed only semireliably in blocked cyclic naming studies of semantic interference suggests the need for ... G. de Zubicaray and N. Schiller; The Oxford Handbook of Neurolinguists (2019)

Indeed, the unit pattern (that's the meme) is defined by what's semireliably copied—for example, the gene's DNA sequence is semireliably copied during meiosis, whereas whole chromosomes or organisms are not reliably copied at all. William Calvin; How Brains Think (2014)

Indeed, that which is semireliably copied pretty much defines the pattern of interest. Diederik Aerts et al.; Einstein Meets Magritte (2012)


And yes, Virginia, there is a

semireliability (n.)

By World War I, submarines had advanced to the point of semireliability, but crews who found themselves trapped on the ocean floor were still doomed to drown or suffocate, for deepwater rescue apparatus didn't exist. Jim Ignasher; Rhode Island Disasters (2010)

Data streaming applications such as ticker tape and news feeds, which are one to many, need only semireliability sometimes and group sizes can be large—in the tens of thousands or even millions. Jessica Keyes; Financial Services Information Systems


Less common (NGram) is half-reliable (adj.)

The winds blow him chance bits of news in an irregular, half-reliable way. The Living Age, Vol. 100, p.409 (1869)

Half-reliable is simply not reliable, like a partner who tells you he or she is 50% faithful; it is a contradiction in terms. Michael Blastland; The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals its Secrets (2019)


semi-trustworthy (adj.) pops up once in a while.

He then adverted to Helena, and began extolling her to the skies; but by this time the dwelling of his semi-trustworthy friend was visible, and reaching it they knocked him up. Richard Bedingfield; Moll Cutpurse (1846)

The readers of Miss Bird's fascinating, but only semi-trustworthy work, will not be like to read Mr. Dickson's comely volume. The Literary World (1889)

I have tried to disentangle from a mass of only semi-trustworthy records the true origin of the well-known saying: "He has Seius' Horse in his stable." Basil Tozer; The Horse in History (1908)

However in many cases the organization may be semi-honest or completely dishonest. In the case of semi-trustworthy (also called semi-honest) partners, organizations may have to play games to extract data. H. Chen and C. Yang; Intelligence and Security Informatics (2008)


You can also mix and match—you'll find half-trustworthy as well.

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  • I'd expect ngrams of 'not very reliable' and 'fairly reliable' to outperform 'semireliable' by quite a distance, but the word does exist. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 12:55
  • Sometimes you gotta jump through hoops for a single-word request :-) You can also go off the grid completely: I found reliable(ish), reliable-ish, and reliable'ish.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 12:58
  • After looking at the number and dates of Google Book examples, I think semireliably could go mainstream in dictionaries, especially because you can reliably write it without a hyphen.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 13:34
  • This is the closest thing I've seen to an answer, but 'reliable' and 'trustworthy' have somewhat different connotations: "The engine is only semireliable; I only <target word> the engine." That example more or less distinguishes what I'm looking for from what you've suggested. And as I pointed out elsewhere, if one begins making ad hoc qualifications to words, the sky is the limit: 'pseudo-', 'quasi-', 'semi-', 'half-', 'micro-', 'pre-', or even 'iX-' (the whole 'i' family of latin prefixes) could all be used in one way or another. Commented May 26, 2022 at 15:18
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I don't think of one single word, but would use "some trust" (or some faith, confidence, etc.). This is used to imply less than total trust, but not distrust. Or "a moderate degree of trust" (or of faith, confidence, etc.), explicitly saying not a high degree but not a low degree either.

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  • Yes, qualifiers permit the expression of any degree of trust one can imagine, but single-word terms seem to be elusive. Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 16:59
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I'll throw my hat into the ring . . . Have you considered "reputable"? It suggests that the person can be trusted but is not exactly a very enthusiastic endorsement.

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Sometimes I use the term 'anecdotal' to imply that the conclusion or premise is based upon personal experience and not objective evidence.

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    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 15:51
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For a relationship, arm’s length might be appropriate.

https://legaldictionary.net/arms-length/

The basic idea in an arm’s length relationship is that the parties have no prior relationship, and no way of judging each other’s reliability, save by their general expectation based on past experience.

The term is commonly used in tax law.

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