Printable Version
Pronunciation: kên-ten-chês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Quarrelsome, combative, argumentative (person). 2. Controversial, causing or otherwise involving controversy.

Notes: This word is the adjective derived from the verb contend "to compete, to insist on", from which the noun contention "rivalry, assertion" is also derived. Contentious, I would contend, has slipped into a slightly different meaning and, as a result, has developed its own noun, contentiousness.

In Play: Today's Good Word is always useful in an election year: "It is high time that the United States return to the civil politics of the past and end the contentious party politics of the past quarter century." Between elections it can be used around the house: "Ever since mom went on her diet, ordering pizza has become a contentious issue."

Word History: Today's Good Word contains a mixture of parts from other recent Good Words. English received it, along with half its vocabulary, from French. French inherited it from Latin contendere "stretch, strain, pursue". This word consists of the same prefix, com- "with", that we saw in incommodious + tendere "stretch" that we discussed in tenement. Com- is a variant of the preposition cum "when, while, with", as in graduating cum laude "with honors", literally, "with praise". The prefix is notable for the changes of its final consonant under the influence of the initial consonant of the word it is attached to, as these words demonstrate: col-lect, con-tract, cor-rect. (Thanking Ann Holcomb for suggesting today's Good Word is not at all a contentious suggestion.)

Dr. Goodword,

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