One afternoon many years ago, when my son and I were playing chess at our dining-room table, our conversation turned to a woman I’d recently met.
“She seems honest,” I cautiously observed.
“I would have said ‘straightforward,’ Dad,” Alexander replied, taking my rook with his knight. Although he was only thirteen at the time, he was even then a stickler for definitions.
As it happened, however, father and son were both close to the mark. The word straightforward is a relative newcomer to the English language. The first usage cited by the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1806. Originally, the meaning of straightforward was primarily descriptive. The word meant “directly in front of or onwards; in direct order.” But by the end of the nineteenth century, straightforward had acquired a moral aura, as in the Rev. Griffith John’s characterization of one Mr. Wei as a “plain, honest, straightforward-looking man” (1875). If not quite synonyms, honest and straightforward had come to occupy the same moral universe. (more…)