Confident vs. Confidant
A reader declares,
One of the grammatical errors I’m seeing more and more is confusion between “confident” and “confidant(e)” Could you cover that?
On the simplest level, several English adjectives that end in -ent are frequently misspelled with an -ant ending, for example:
Writers who misspell confident as confidant may be pronouncing confident correctly, but have merely failed to learn to spell it correctly.
Writers who misspell confident as confidante have a tin ear.
Confident is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: CON-fi-dent. The e of the last syllable is the short sound of e, as in rent.
The pronunciation of confidant is not so straightforward. Charles Elster notes that the older pronunciation with the stress on the first syllable is still listed in some current dictionaries, but “is now defunct or close to it.” Modern pronunciation places the stress on the first syllable, but not everyone pronounces the final syllable with the same vowel sound. For example, in the first pronunciation given in both OED and Merriam-Webster, the a in dant has the sound of a in father. In the second pronunciation given in both dictionaries, the a in dant has the short a sound, as in pant. Nevertheless, either pronunciation, “con-fi-dahnt” or “con-fi-dant,” provides a clue that confidant is not spelled the same as confident.
Confidante is the feminine spelling of confidant (same pronunciation). Some style guides recommend the use of only confidant, on the grounds that the feminine spelling confidante is “a needless distinction between males and females.” It seems to me that if we are going to spell the noun differently from the adjective, we ought to spell it confidante to make it as different as possible for the spelling-challenged.
Before the adjective confident and the noun confidant, we had the verb confide.
Confide entered English in the mid-1400s from the Latin verb confidere: “to trust in, rely firmly upon, believe.” The meaning of the English verb was “to trust or have faith.” In the 1700s, confide took on the meaning “to share a secret with.” The phrase “to confide in (someone)” came into use in 1888.
The adjective confident, “self-reliant, sure of oneself,” dates from the 1570s.
In the early 1600s, confident came to be used as a noun meaning: “trusty friend or adherent; one in whom one confides; a confidential friend.” This, of course, is the modern meaning of confidant.
The pronunciation with the accent on the last syllable [kahn-fee-DAHNT], developed after the 1700s, probably in imitation of the pronunciation of the French words confident and confidente; the spelling confidant followed in order to reflect the different pronunciation.
The earliest example in the OED of the spelling confidant for the noun is 1751. The latest example of the spelling confident as a noun is 1867. Since then, the standard spelling of the adjective has been confident, and the spelling confidant has been standard for the noun. English speakers have had 147 years to get the spellings straight.
Perhaps the best-known use of the word confidant occurs in the theme song for the television comedy series The Golden Girls:
Thank you for being a friend,
Travelling down a road and back again.
Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant.
Even if we drop the spelling confidante for “trusted friend,” confidante remains as a furniture term. A confidante is a piece of furniture that connects two chairs on an s-plan. One friend sits on one side and the other on the opposite side–the perfect setup for whispering.
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