“She was ingenious, but ingenuous.” What now? Look closely and you’ll notice I haven’t gone completely crazy and those are different words.
Before delving into their definitions, let’s check out their use. Below is a figure I made from the Google books Ngram Viewer:
First, we can see that ingenious is more frequent than ingenuous for the entire period of 1800-2008. Ingenious has been in steady decline and is now only 10% as common as it used to be. Ingenuous was slightly more popular in the early 1800s, but is now used approximately never. So you’re forgiven for not knowing both these relatively rare words off the top of your head!
Ingenious (in-JEEN-ee-us) has positive connotations today. It can be used to describe a person as clever and original (“an ingenious inventor”) or a something as cleverly designed (“an ingenious invention”). It’s similar to the word genius.
Ingenuous (in-JEN-you-us) , on the other hand, has negative connotations today. It means unsuspecting and naïve (“an ingenuous child”). You can remember this by thinking about the word ingenue, which today usually refers to a theatrical role for a wholesome young woman. Be careful because disingenuous is not simply an antonym of ingenuous; it means someone is deceitfully pretending to be ingenuous.
So while it would be great to cultivate a reputation as an ingenious scientist who develops ingenious theories, you probably don’t want to be known as ingenuously falling for everyone else’s fad theories.
(Today’s tip inspired by this post from The Publishing Training Centre.)