Webster1913 is overemphasizing the noble aspects of this word. While he is correct as far as he goes, it's also important to note that as early as the late 1600s 'ingenuous' was starting to pick up negative connotations. Webster touches on these in his third definition -- "Free from reserve, disguise, equivocation, or dissimulation". The idea is that a highborn person doesn't have the same ability to lie and cheat as does a commoner. A good thing, yes, but also a handicap at times.

What Webster isn't telling us is that for centuries ingenuous has been used not just in the sense of 'innocent', but also in the sense of 'artless' ("Wanting art, knowledge, or skill; ignorant; unskillful.") This was likely true of many 17th century noblemen, and I'm sure it enjoyed great popularity as a veiled insult. While it is no longer veiled, it is still an insult, and was so back in the time of Webster1913.

While you certainly still find the traditional definition of 'Openly straightforward, frank, or candid' in use, these days you are just as likely to find it used in the sense of someone who is lacking in sophistication, smarts, or worldliness.

In*gen"u*ous (?), a. [L. ingenuus inborn, innate, freeborn, noble, frank; pref. in- in + the root of gignere to beget. See Genius, and cf. Ingenious.]


Of honorable extraction; freeborn; noble; as, ingenuous blood of birth.


Noble; generous; magnanimous; honorable; uprigth; high-minded; as, an ingenuous ardor or zeal.

If an ingenuous detestation of falsehood be but carefully and early instilled, that is the true and genuin method to obviate dishonesty. Locke.


Free from reserve, disguise, equivocation, or dissimulation; open; frank; sa, an ingenuous man; an ingenuous declaration, confession, etc.

Sensible in myself . . . what a burden it is for me, who would be ingenuous, to be loaded with courtesies which he hath not the least hope to requite or deserve. Fuller.





(Formerly) printers did not discriminate between . . . ingenuous and ingenious, and these words were used or rather printed interchangeably almost to the begining of the eighteenth century.

G. P. Marsh.

Syn. -- Open; frank; unreserved; artless; plain; sincere; candid; fair; noble; generous. -- Ingenuous, Open, Frank. One who is open speaks out at once what is uppermost in his mind; one who is frank does it from a natural boldness, or dislike of self-restraint; one who is ingenuous is actuated by a native simplicity and artlessness, which make him willing to confess faults, and make known his sentiments without reserve. See Candid.


© Webster 1913.

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