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Definition: An unexpected, unfortunate, and often embarrassing occurrence; also, a minor disagreement that may be awkward. 


Pronunciation: Cahn-trey-tam


The word contretemps comes from Latin via French.  In French the word or phrase contre-temps means “an unfortunate accident, a motion out of time, or bad times”.  This comes from the Latin words contra or against and tempus or time.  It dates back to the 1680’s as a fencing term originally, although the meaning has altered a bit with time.

Why this word?

Everyone ends up in an embarrassing situation at some point in their lives.  {Insert funny story that I definitely will not share with thousands of strangers on the internet.} So you see, we’ve all been there.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a word that so nicely sums up your situation, but also deflects attention away from the current predicament and onto your fantastic vocabulary?  Yup, I thought so too.

How to use the word contretemps?

“The contretemps in which they now found themselves was due entirely to her perceived notion that he was in love with her, despite the rather blatant evidence that his romantic notions tended more to the male end of the spectrum than to a female like her.”

“And how do proceed to find our way out of this contretemps?”

“My face blushed beet red as I wondered how I had once again managed to plant my foot so firmly in my mouth and how I would finagle my way free of this current contretemps.” 


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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