complimentary

Today’s Bizarro, with a play on two senses of complimentary:

The short version of the story, on the adjective complimentary in NOAD2:

1 expressing a compliment; praising or approving: Jennie was very complimentary about Kathy’s riding | complimentary remarks.

2 given or supplied free of charge: a complimentary bottle of wine.

But there’s a considerably longer story, starting with the question of how these two senses are related.

OED2 (which is very much in need of revision in this case) doesn’t have sense 2, but it does have the relevant sense of the noun compliment:

a complimentary gift [in NOAD2’s sense1 of complimentary], a present, gratuity. to make one a compliment of (a thing)  [first cite 1722]

This is the usage in the formula with someone’s compliments / with the compliments of someone, used to express the fact that what one is giving is free.

At this point, it’s customary to note the distinction between complimentary and complementary, pointing out that (as in the linguist’s technical term complementary distribution) the adjective is related to the verb complete. From NOAD2, with a development of the sense ‘completing (one another)’:

combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another: three guitarists playing interlocking, complementary parts | Internet technology is actually complementary to traditional technologies.

Ah, but there’s a sting in the etymological tail here: More from NOAD2:

ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from French compliment (noun), complimenter (verb), from Italian complimento ‘fulfillment of the requirements of courtesy,’ from Latin complementum ‘completion, fulfillment’ (reflected in the earlier English spelling complement, gradually replaced by the French form between 1655 and 1715).

So compliment started as complement after all.

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoons — Don Piraro says there’s only1 in this strip — see this Page.)

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