Should I be as irked as I am by the frequent use of ‘compliment’ when one really means ‘complement’? This misuse makes me fume whenever I come across it, but it seems that one of the reasons for the mistake is that, in addition to sounding the same, they used to share some meanings (via Dictionary.com). ‘Complement’ is the older word, in use since the 1300s, and meaning ‘to enhance something’ or ‘make it perfect’. ‘Compliment’ hails from the mid-1600s via the Spanish ‘complimiento’ but originates from the same Latin root. Despite the commonalities, the two words have diverged and using one for the other is, frankly, confusion. To ‘compliment’ someone (yes, a person, not something) means ‘to praise’ them or ‘to express admiration for’ them. And please don’t tell me that a misuse so common changes the language and becomes acceptable — things like this are just plain ignorant mistakes:
While I’m here, I’ll just mention the other frequent case of mistaken word identity that really gets to me — the use of ‘tact’ when one really means ‘tack.’
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone tell me they caught a typo I missed: I wrote, “take a different tack” when I must have meant “take a different tact.” I’ll admit I sometimes miss typos, but that’s not one of them. It’s possibly the most widely misused phrase I can think of.
“Tack” — the correct word in this context — is actually derived from sailing terminology. The tack is the lower leading corner of the sail; it points the direction the ship is heading. So when a sailboat changes course, it’s changing from one tack to another, or “taking a different tack.”
Tact, on the other hand, really only has one meaning. It’s a keen perception of what is appropriate or considerate. (Think of tactile–>touch–>the right touch.)
via Get edited.
[You are welcome to use the comments section to blow off steam about confusion between other similar words. ]