Learn English – the difference in meaning between “complacent” and “complaisant”


They are both derived from the French world complaire, which means "pleased"

According to this source, "the two words overlapped in meaning until the middle of the 19th century."

How do they differ in meaning today, and why did they deviate? My understanding is that one refers to "not knowing" (something bad), while the other refers to "not wanting to know" it.
Is this correct? Or are they still different spellings of the same word (which have been the case at one time?

Best Answer

Complacent means

  1. pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied: The voters are too complacent to change the government.
  2. pleasant; complaisant.

Complaisant means

  1. inclined or disposed to please; obliging; agreeable or gracious; compliant: the most complaisant child I've ever met.

(Definitions from dictionary.com)

So the first term usually means you are satisfied with the status quo while unaware of a danger lying ahead, and the second means eager to please; however, the secondary definition of complacent is as an alternate spelling of complaisant.

Both words can be pronounced the same, with /s/, but the second can also be pronounced with a /z/.