Contemporaneous, Extemporaneous: Huh?

woman_news_reporterTwo words that derive from Latin (Hey — no yawning!) have worked their way into today’s conversations, many times thanks to news reports about U.S. politics:

contemporaneous and extemporaneous

They’re not exactly what most of us consider everyday words, so I’ll share with you what I found in my online search.

Contemporaneous means existing, occurring, originating, operating at the same time; belonging to the same period in time. It has Latin roots in tempus (time) and shares meaning with a similar but more familiar word, contemporary.

Contemporaneous always is an adjective:

The FBI agent’s contemporaneous notes attest to the defendant’s state of mind during the interview. (The agent’s notes originated at the time of the interview.)

A similar word, contemporary, comes from the same Latin root word tempus and can serve as either a noun or an adjective:

noun: living or occurring at the same time
My professor is a contemporary of my father’s.

adjective: belonging to or occurring in the present
The movie reflects contemporary values.

Extemporaneous means words spoken or actions taken without preparation. It also has Latin origins related to time (tempore: out of the time), and it is an adjective generally used to describe something composed, formed or uttered on the spur of the moment.

The prime minister interrupted her meeting to deliver extemporaneous remarks about the recent terrorist attacks.

We made extemporaneous plans to meet for a quick lunch.

In an academic setting, an instructor of public speaking might describe an extemporaneous speech as one that has been thoroughly prepared and practiced but not memorized.

Remarks that have had no preparation whatsoever often are described as impromptu rather than extemporaneous, although the terms sometimes are used interchangeably.

The prime minister interrupted her meeting to deliver impromptu remarks about the recent terrorist attacks.

We made impromptu plans to meet for a quick lunch.

Both contemporaneous and extemporaneous have six syllables, making them pretty long and complex for everyday conversation or writing.

Yet whether most people understand them or not, they seem to have gained favor and found their place in news reports and commentator conversations.

Do you hear words that are long and complex — and sometimes confusing? Please share them:


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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Contemporaneous, Extemporaneous: Huh?

  1. AvatarNancy Boerger

    Ms. Watson,

    I was confused by the sentence below:

    My professor is a contemporary of my father’s.

    Please explain why you used a possessive noun (father’s) at the end of the preposition. Does it imply father’s time? Could it also have been correct to simply use the word “father”?

    Thank you,

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Nancy, I couldn’t think of an explanation other than it sounds better to me, so I went to Goggle. I was unable to find much that I considered definitive. I think it could be expressed either way; it is a matter of convention rather than a matter of a grammatical rule. Here’s one example and explanation:

      “A friend of Susan’s is a double genitive, which has been a feature of English grammar for centuries, and it is the normal alternative to one of Susan’s friends. Just as most people would say a friend of mine, rather than a friend of me, so a friend of Susan’s, rather than a friend of Susan, would be the natural choice in most contexts.”

      So, yes, it could be: My professor is a contemporary of my father.

      Thanks for questioning it and taking time to comment. When it comes to grammar, I’m always learning. —Kathy

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