Printable Version
Pronunciation: kêm-ê-pêns Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: (Slang) Just deserts, well-deserved punishment.

Notes: The US contributors to the English vocabulary often seem guided more by the rules of silliness than by those of the English grammar. This week we will be accepting responsibility for such outlandish lexical creatures as stick-to-itive, whachamacallit, thingamabob, and one-upsmanship, starting with today's word. We would expect an adjective like comeuppant to come along with today's word, but no one has suggested it yet, let alone tried it. These words don't take well to the rules of derivation.

In Play: Today's word has the informality to fit right in at home: "Mom! If Ralphy doesn't stop pulling my hair, I'm going to give him his comeuppance!" Comeuppance is not so much harsh retribution as punishment that just fits the crime: "Laura Norder got her comeuppance for running too tight a ship in the office when she received no presents at the Christmas party."

Word History: One advantage of the silly words we Americans come up with is that their origins are not difficult to divine. This word was taken from the phrase "to come up" by adding the out-of-place French suffix -ance to it. Come up has several meanings, but the sense underlying comeuppance is that of coming up before a judge, coming up for judgment. The French suffix is a modification of the ending for the present participle in that language, -ent or -ant. This explains why it is sometimes spelled -ence, as in evidence, and sometimes -ance, as in importance. The choice depends on peculiarities of the French verb conjugation. (We might very well get our comeuppance if we don't thank the mysterious Lexiterian Klimt for suggesting today's Good Word in the 'Word Suggestions' shop of the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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