[kon-truh-tahn; French kawntruh-tahn]

noun, plural con·tre·temps [kon-truh-tahnz; French kawntruh-tahn] /ˈkɒn trəˌtɑ̃z; French kɔ̃trəˈtɑ̃/.

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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for contretemps

Contemporary Examples of contretemps

  • That seemed like it was the end of the matter but then new life was breathed into the contretemps on Monday.

    The Daily Beast logo
    A Cuomo-Christie Proxy War?

    Ben Jacobs

    December 3, 2013

  • The contretemps escalated during a commercial break when Khrushchev was handed a note by one of his advisers.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Nikita Khrushchev, Talk Show Guest

    Stephen Battaglio

    November 20, 2010

  • Carter reveals that Jay made weird, borderline mentorly calls to Kimmel long before the Conan contretemps began.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Secrets of the Late Night War

    Bryan Curtis

    November 8, 2010

  • But the Web contretemps has had an impact all the same, particularly on the political right.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The GOP's Supreme Problem

    Reihan Salam

    May 27, 2009

Historical Examples of contretemps

British Dictionary definitions for contretemps


noun plural -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 for contretemps

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

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