10 Naïve Words for the Gullible
Some people are sweet and innocent, believing in the truth and virtue of everyone they meet. Such easily hornswoggled folks are often described as naïve and gullible, but there are also many rare and forgotten words for the credulous. The following are terms for those fresh-eyed citizens who can honestly say, “This is my first rodeo.”
This adjective would appear fit only to describe green monsters from space who look like they belong in a salad. But since at least the late 1800s, this has been a term for folks who are green in the sense of inexperienced. This term often appears in an idiom James Joyce used in 1922’s Ulysses: “Gob, he's not as green as he's cabbagelooking.”
2. NEW CHUM
This Australian and New Zealand term originally referred to a rather specific type: a recently arrived resident of a prison. Also in the early 1800s, the word referred to a new immigrant. By the mid-1800s, new chum could apply to just about any sort of freshman type. There’s also an amusing, rare variation: “new chumism,” a terrific synonym for naiveté.
Of all the naiveté-describing words, this one might have the best origin story. Since the 1400s, gudgeon has been a word for a small fish used mainly as bait. Since careless fish swallow that bait, this evolved into a word for people who will swallow anything. By the 1500s, gudgeons were being discussed alongside fools—not a flattering ilk. You can also say that the gullible gape for gudgeons or swallow a gudgeon. An 1892 use from the National Observer reflects the term’s fishy origin: “It has educated Hodge into an increased readiness to gorge any gudgeon that may be offered him.”
4. PIGEON'S MILK
This term doesn’t refer to a dupe, but it’s a useful tool in duping. Since the 1700s, people have been sending dewy-eyed children and guileless adults on errands for pigeon’s milk, which thankfully is not a real thing. This is a prank well worth reviving next time a barista asks your milk preference at your local pretentious coffee shop.
This word is a creative coinage worthy of the internet’s most creative word-makers, but it’s been around since the early 1700s. The most dreaded day of the year for sillytonians is April Fool’s Day.
Though this word later became a cutesy term of endearment, back in the 1600s, it was originally a bit of an insult for a young’un without a clue. That sense probably comes from this word’s history naming seeds, which are similarly undeveloped.
7. PRAIRIE CHICKEN
This term first applied to a type of grouse with an extremely theatrical courtship display, involving booming noises and colorful, puffed-up neck pouches. That sense was common in the early 1800s, but a century later, this term started applying to newbies. Prairie chicken is a close relation to the more common spring chicken.
We’ve all heard of hard-boiled detectives who have seen it all, their jadedness epitomized by alcoholism and calling women dames. But a lesser-known adjective, soft-boiled, has been used since the 1930s for folks who haven’t seen squat. D.H. Lawrence gave the term a political spin in a 1930 poem: “O you hard-boiled conservatives and you soft-boiled liberals / Don't you see how you make bolshevism inevitable?”
In Australia and New Zealand since the late 1800s, melon has described clue-free dolts and green newbies, especially new military cadets. A melon is a long way from being top or second banana.
This adjective goes all the way back to Shakespeare, who used it in The Merchant of Venice. The young-eyed have some admirable qualities, such as enthusiasm and energy, but they’re also a bit gullible. All such senses are conveyed by this word.