complacent (kəm-plā-sənt) vs. complaisant (kəm-plā-sənt)

Let’s kick off our homonym theme with a pare pair of adjectives that I find to be particularly tricky. The words complacent and complaisant are homophones as well as heterographs. As you may recall, homophones are words that sound the same, but are defined differently, while heterographs have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings.

Both words are derived from the Latin infinitive complacere meaning to please. Complaisant means “a desire to please,” whereas complacent means “pleased with one’s self” or “self-satisfied,” and usually has a negative connotation. To make it more confusing, one of the definitions of complacent IS complaisant! However, if you use the word complacent to mean “willingness to please or oblige others”, linguists will probably label it incorrect.

Stay tuned for another tricky homonym pear pair soon!

 

 

 

Severus Snape – Harry Potter Characters

Severus Snape definitely lives up to his name! Photo from harrypotter.wikia.com

Let’s explore another charactonym used in Harry Potter! If you recall, a charactonym is a name that suggests a certain trait about a fictional character. Severus Snape is the feared Potions Master of Hogwarts and later becomes the Defense against the Dark Arts teacher.

The Latin word severus means strict and Severus Snape definitely lives up to his name. Snape is described as a “teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin” (Pg 126). “His eyes … were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels (Pg 136). He “criticized almost everyone” (Pg 139) and especially loved to deduct points from Gryffindor for any minor offense. According to Ron, he could “turn very nasty” so it was probably best not to anger him (Pg 139).

*Quotes cited from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.