Mirriam-Webster defines suspicious as:
- tending to arouse suspicion
- expressing or indicative of suspicion
These two definitions differ significantly in their meaning. (1) implies the subject is the target, while (2) implies the subject is the actor. Context such as "Alice is suspicious of Bob." can help disambiguate, but a sentence like "Charlie is suspicious." can mean either "Charlie tends to arouse suspicion in others." or "Charlie tends to be suspicious of others." Is there a variant of this word that unambiguously connotes meaning (2)?
A few related questions have been asked here in the past, but none seem to answer this question or even specifically ask it. Ambiguous Adjectives asks for a word that describes this kind of ambiguity, and Suspect versus Suspicious focuses on the difference between the titular words when connoting meaning (1).
Several synonyms more concretely identify the subject as the actor, but these stray from the intended meaning in other ways:
- Skeptical loses the negativity associated with the target. You can be either skeptical or suspicious of the statement "I have never committed a crime." but you can only really be skeptical of the statement "Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light." Ideally the word I'm looking for not introduce ambiguity regarding the negativity of the target.
- Paranoid adds negativity associated with the actor, and implies that the subject's suspicions are unwarranted.
Stepping back, the word I'm looking for could be used in the phrase "Dave is a (word) person." and would indicate:
- Dave has a propensity to be suspicious of things, but these suspicions are not so extreme as to be considered paranoia.
- The targets of these suspicions are things that are illicit, out of place, or otherwise considered potentially negative. For example, Dave would certainly be suspicious of an unmarked van parked in front of his house, but he still believes in the accuracy of the daily weather forecast as much as anyone else.
"Suspicious" really seems to convey the target attributes well, but has this ambiguity regarding who the target is. So far I'm leaning towards "Skeptical" since I want it to be perfectly clear that the subject is the actor, not the target, of suspicion. Can I do any better?
In case it helps, the word will be used to describe an object in a software library that tends to be suspicious of the things that interact with it, and takes proactive measures to guard itself against potential negative action.
SuspiciousWidget is definitely not what I want, because at first glance you might think that there's something wrong with the widget.
ParanoidWidget I don't think would be allowed due to its negative connotations.
SkepticalWidget is an option, but for some reason it seems like the naming is sarcastic due to the loss of the connotation that the things
Widget cares about represent serious problems.