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[kon-truh-tahn; French kawntruh-tahn] /ˈkɒn trəˌtɑ̃; French kɔ̃trəˈtɑ̃/
noun, plural contretemps
[kon-truh-tahnz; French kawntruh-tahn] /ˈkɒn trəˌtɑ̃z; French kɔ̃trəˈtɑ̃/ (Show IPA)
an inopportune occurrence; an embarrassing mischance:
He caused a minor contretemps by knocking over his drink.
Origin of contretemps
1675-85; < French, equivalent to contre- counter- + temps time (< Latin tempus); perhaps alteration (by folk etymology) of Middle French contrestant, present participle of contrester to oppose; see contrast Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for contretemps
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Then she asked me if she was right in supposing all these contretemps we had had were the doing of Lady Ver.

    Red Hair Elinor Glyn
  • He determined to take no notice of the contretemps, but return boldly to the attack.

  • This contretemps put the rest of the party out of sorts, and they broke up.

    Mrs. Halliburton's Troubles Mrs. Henry Wood
  • Not only was there no contretemps, but all went off well and pleasantly.

  • Such a contretemps would, I reflected, mean for me ten years' confinement in a fortress.

    Spies of the Kaiser William Le Queux
  • I will write all the pleasant things, but for the jokes—the contretemps, no!

    Pixie O'Shaughnessy Mrs. George de Horne Vaizey
British Dictionary definitions for contretemps


/ˈkɒntrəˌtɑːn; French kɔ̃trətɑ̃/
noun (pl) -temps
an awkward or difficult situation or mishap
(fencing) a feint made with the purpose of producing a counterthrust from one's opponent
a small disagreement that is rather embarrassing
Word Origin
C17: from French, from contre against + temps time, from Latin tempus
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for contretemps

1680s, "a blunder in fencing," from French contre-temps "motion out of time, unfortunate accident, bad times;" from Latin contra + tempus (see temporal). As a ballet term, from 1706; as "an unfortunate accident," 1802; as "a dispute," from 1961.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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