plural contretemps ˈkän-trə-(ˌ)täⁿ(z) How to pronounce contretemps (audio)
: an inopportune or embarrassing occurrence or situation

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When contretemps first appeared in English in the 1600s, it did so in the context of fencing: a contretemps was a thrust or pass made at the wrong time, whether the wrongness of the time had to do with one’s lack of skill or an opponent’s proficiency. From the fencing bout contretemps slid gracefully onto the dance floor, a contretemps being a step danced on an unaccented beat. Both meanings are in keeping with the word’s French roots, contre- (meaning "counter") and temps (meaning "time"). (The word’s English pronunciation is also in keeping with those roots: \KAHN-truh-tahn\.) By the late 1700s, contretemps had proved itself useful outside of either activity by referring to any embarrassing or inconvenient mishap—something out of sync or rhythm with social conventions. The sense meaning "dispute" or "argument" arrived relatively recently, in the 20th century, perhaps coming from the idea that if you step on someone’s toes, literally or figuratively, a scuffle might ensue.

Examples of contretemps in a Sentence

The senator dismissed his disagreement with the President as a minor contretemps. there was a bit of a contretemps over the seating arrangements for the upcoming wedding
Recent Examples on the Web Though Hollywood has been quick to publicly distance itself from all manner of scandal in recent years, the Netflix-Dave Chappelle contretemps may have changed the course of how high-profile companies handle intense outrage. Tatiana Siegel, Variety, 9 Jan. 2023 The Dallas visit avoided the contretemps of the Washington portion of the trip. Dallas News, 2 June 2022 Last year’s contretemps over submarines is just the latest example. Michael Collins, USA TODAY, 1 Dec. 2022 Moore’s personal biography – despite these minor contretemps – proved more than compelling enough for Maryland voters. Peniel E. Joseph, CNN, 9 Nov. 2022 See all Example Sentences for contretemps 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contretemps.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French, from contre- counter- + temps time, from Latin tempus

First Known Use

1769, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of contretemps was in 1769


Dictionary Entries Near contretemps

Cite this Entry

“Contretemps.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jul. 2024.

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