The Grammarphobia Blog

An adjective with integrity

Q: I wish “integrious” were a word meaning full of integrity. There is no simple way to say someone has integrity.

A: Would you believe that this came up during a WNYC discussion back in 2004? Some of the proposals for an adjective to use in place of the missing word were “honest,” “upright,” “trustworthy,” and “sincere.”

In fact, we once had both adjectival and adverbial forms of “integrity,” although only for brief times in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for the adjective “integrous” (meaning “marked by integrity”), recorded in a work by William Morice in 1657: “That an action be good, the cause ought to be integrous.”

The OED also has an entry for the words “integrious” (adjective) and “integriously” (adverb). The only citation in the OED is from the diary of Sir Henry Slingsby (1658):

“Such was their integrious candor and intimacy to me in my greatest extremes. … Being so integriously grounded, as it admitted no alloy or mixture with By-respects or self-interests.”

Another adjective was recorded more than a century later in the poet Robert Burns’s first Commonplace Book (1784): “To maintain an integritive conduct towards our fellow-creatures.”

The noun “integrity” first appeared in 1450, according to the OED, and originally meant the quality of being unspoiled or in an original, perfect state. It’s related to “integer,” “integral,” and other words having to do with wholeness.

The moral meaning of “integrity” came along in the next century and meant “soundness of moral principle; the character of uncorrupted virtue, esp. in relation to truth and fair dealing; uprightness, honesty, sincerity.”

This sense of the word was first recorded in Edward Hall’s Chronicle, Hen. VI (1548): “So much estemed … for his liberalitie, clemencie, integritie, and corage.”

Alas, all the old adjectives are now described as obscure and rare. But words have been known to come back from the dead, so who knows?

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