Referring to Daily Express articles speculating that Michael Owen’s footballing career might be finished, his solicitor, John Kelly, told a libel hearing: ‘These incredulous allegations are entirely without foundation.’
Can ‘incredulous’ describe the thing disbelieved, rather than the disbeliever? I was, um, incredulous. Merriam-Webster Online says this usage ‘was revived in the 20th century after a couple of centuries of disuse’, but admits ‘many people think it is a result of confusion with incredible, which is still the usual word in this sense’. Still, they could be the same people who go around telling everyone ‘hopefully’ can only be an adverb, and we wouldn’t want to take any notice of them.
The Compact Oxford has only ‘unwilling or unable to believe’; the Shorter acknowledges synonymity with ‘incredible’ but dates this ‘–1750’. So is it an Americanism? Webster’s Revised Unabridged gives ‘incredible; not easy to be believed’ as its third definition, but sources it to Shakespeare, not vouching for current usage. Princeton WordNet, Houghton-Mifflin’s American Heritage Dictionary and the Random House-based Dictionary.com Unabridged are united in their ignorance of any such sense.
Odd. Guardian.co.uk repeats the phrase in its headline, but I bet it doesn’t make it into the print edition, at least not without a sub inserting some sort of snippy comment.