The Word Guy: My 'complements' to the chef
Linguistic misunderstandings can cost you a lot of money. Just ask the Connecticut man who misinterpreted this notice in The New York Times: “Complementary Dinner — A five-course wine-pairing menu will be served March 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Saul, 140 Smith Street (Dean Street), Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.”
“Since the dinner was complementary,” he writes, “I invited my girlfriend and another couple to join me. The dinner — appetizer, entree, dessert — was superb, and the selection of wines was amazing.
“At the end of the dinner, I praised the wine steward, the chef and the waiter. Then the bill appeared. I said I thought I did not have to pay since the dinner was ‘complementary.' The restaurant manager explained the difference between ‘complementary' and ‘complimentary.'
“He had me there, and I was embarrassed over the fact that I had confused the two words, which certainly have very different meanings. It was a very expensive dinner, and the wine particularly so — not at all complimentary.”
This story prompts me to consider other usage distinctions that could make a dramatic difference. Would you react to each of the following situations with glee, or would you flee?
1. You're on trial for murder, and you're told the person presiding over your case is a “disinterested judge.” Glee or flee?
2. You're inexperienced and uneducated, but you're applying for a job with many perquisites? Glee or flee?
3. You're on a dating website looking for someone who's a nonconformist. A possible match writes, “I love to flaunt convention!” Glee or flee?
4. Your boss asks you to build an aquarium teaming with fish. Glee or flee?
5. You're a maker of fishing implements, and your boss tells you that you've made “a great gaff.”
Glee or flee? Answers:
1. Glee. “Disinterested” means “unprejudiced, objective.” “Uninterested” means “not interested.”
2. Glee. “Perquisites” means “benefits, extras.” “Prerequisites” means “requirements, qualifications.”
3. Flee. “Flaunt” means to “show off, ostentatiously display.” “Flout” means “to defy, scorn.”
4. Flee. “Teaming with fish” means working with a team of fish to build it. “Teeming” with fish means “full of fish.”
5. Glee. A gaff is a pole or hook used in fishing. A gaffe is a blatant mistake.
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send email to Wordguy@aol.com or send regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Rutherford shines as old boss pouts
- Crane tips over, smashes into roof of building at Pitt
- LaBar: What’s killing professional wrestling
- ‘Boyz of Zummer’ Wiz Khalifa, Fall-Out Boy light it up at First Niagara
- Former Jeannette coach held for trial on charges of assault on teen girls
- Liriano, Pirates complete sweep of Tigers
- Lower Burrell couple charged with 6 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty
- Young Nebraska girl’s organs give 2 Pittsburgh-area boys a chance to live
- Pittsburgh Regatta will go on without boats, water events
- Hurricanes owner rips Rutherford, Penguins
- Penguins’ Kessel ‘thrilled’ with chance to play with Crosby, Malkin