A minor dispute or disagreement.
An unexpected and unfortunate occurrence.
“My sister and I would always have a contretemps over who could use the shower first in the morning, so I started showering at night.”
French, late 17th century
WHY THIS WORD?
This French loanword comes from the exciting world of fencing. Translated from French, it means “motion out of time,” with “contre-” meaning “against” and “temps” meaning “time.” In the 17th century, it originally denoted a thrust made at an inopportune moment. Today, the noun is used for a minor squabble, or an unexpected and unfortunate occurrence. If you find yourself with an épée (a fencing sword) in your hands, try to avoid any sense of contretemps.