Buck's English: It's nice to compliment your complement

By Gene Owens Published: March 23, 2014

Mary Beth Olson, of Edmond, showed Buck an article from the Swayback Daily Kick quoting the CEO of a new company in Edmond: “We developed a team of young, experienced energy executives that complimented each other well.”

“Sounds like a pleasant place to work, with execs running around complimenting each other,” she said, as she enjoyed a soft drink and peanuts with the complement at Curly’s Soonerco.

Mary Beth figured that the CEO meant “complement” instead of “compliment,” and Buck reckons she’s right. The question is whether the executive or the reporter confused the two words. They’re pronounced identically, and you don’t know whether someone means “compliment” or “complement” unless it’s in writing. You have to go by context.

To compliment is to say something nice in praise of somebody. To complement is to go well with something so as to bring it to balance or completion. Eve complemented Adam, because she brought the female dimension to the human race. Richard Henry Lee complimented George Washington when he said the first president was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

A complement can also be the full crew of a ship or, metaphorically, the whole membership of any group.

“The whole complement of the Swayback Ladies Bean Shelling Society agreed that my leopard-skin leotards complemented my personality,” said Ms. Clarisse van Beauregard.

“That’s no compliment to her leotards,” said Miss Lulabelle.

“Or to her personality,” said Floyd.

Send questions for Buck to BucksEnglish@aol.com. Please let Buck know what town you’re from. For other writing by Gene Owens, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.