Entries linking to unreliable
prefix of negation, Old English un-, from Proto-Germanic *un- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, German un-, Gothic un-, Dutch on-), from PIE *n- (source of Sanskrit a-, an- "not," Greek a-, an-, Old Irish an-, Latin in-), combining form of PIE root *ne- "not." Often euphemistic (such as untruth for "lie").
The most prolific of English prefixes, freely and widely used in Old English, where it forms more than 1,000 compounds. It underwent a mass extinction in early Middle English, but emerged with renewed vigor 16c. to form compounds with native and imported words. It disputes with Latin-derived cognate in- (1) the right to form the negation of certain words (indigestable/undigestable, etc.), and though both might be deployed in cooperation to indicate shades of meaning (unfamous/infamous), typically they are not.
It also makes words from phrases (such as uncalled-for, c. 1600; undreamed-of, 1630s; uncome-at-able, 1690s; unputdownable, 1947, of a book; un-in-one-breath-utterable, Ben Jonson; etc., but the habit is not restricted to un-; such as put-up-able-with, 1812). As a prefix in telegramese to replace not and save the cost of a word, it is attested by 1936.
1560s, raliabill, "that may be relied on, fit to be depended on, trustworthy," originally Scottish; see rely + -able. Not common before 1850, and often execrated thereafter in Britain as an Americanism because it involves a use of -able different from its use in provable, etc., and not warranted in classical Latin. But it is defended (by OED, Century Dictionary, etc.) on grounds of the suffix's sense in available, laughable, livable, dependable; indispensable, etc. Related: Reliably; reliableness. As a noun, "a reliable person, beast, or thing," by 1890 (with old).
Reliable expresses what cannot be expressed by any other one word. Moreover, it conveys an idea of constant occurrence. He who would be exact has, indeed, no alternative, if he avoids it except a periphrasis. [Fitzedward Hall, "On English Adjectives in -Able," 1877]
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in the early 1950s computers were large and expensive and unreliable
an unreliable trestle