Tag Archives: words



I’d just like to say up front, “I’m sorry,” to all of you whom I’ve affronted over the years with my conflation of the words “complacent” and “complaisant.”

Bartleby says,

These words sound the same and are often confused. Complacent means “overly contented, self-satisfied,” as in, “After making a string of successes, the film director grew complacent.” The trouble arises in that complacent can also mean “eager to please,” which is what complaisant means: We were taken on a tour by an energetic and complaisant guide.

For the record, I did not know – shame! – that these were two different words, or even, I have to admit that the latter was in the running at all as a word. Even though you couldn’t tell in conversation, since they are inexplicably but conveniently pronounced exactly the same way, I was always saying “complacent.” I was. Don’t argue. I was. And, even without an exact accounting for all the times I’ve ever said it, I always meant “complacent,” probably because I had no idea that “complaisant” existed.

However, a new era of confusion is dawning with the addition of “complaisant” to my vocabulary, so brace yourselves. “If you want to avoid the risk of being misunderstood, use complacent in the “contented” sense only.” (Bartleby again.) Of course I don’t want to avoid that risk! Dinner table mayhem, here I come! From now on, you will not know which word I mean and, since one is a slight compliment and the other an indictment, you’ll just have to guess how I feel about the people I’m talking about based on my facial expression. Come on – it’ll be a fun (and likely unnoticed) game!

Happy Monday!