Discomfort vs. Discomfiture

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A reader asks the difference between the words discomfiture and discomfort.

Although you may find the words given as synonyms in a list, a distinct difference exists. Discomfort connotes a lack of ease. Discomfiture connotes unease together with embarrassment.

discomfort (noun):
1. Something that makes a person feel (mentally or physically) uncomfortable; an inconvenience, a hardship. Also: a slight physical pain.

2. The state, condition, or fact of being (mentally or physically) uncomfortable; uneasiness.

Here are some examples of both physical and mental discomfort:

Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life

Depending on where you experience the discomfort, eye pain can fall into one of two categories: ocular pain (occurs on the eye’s surface), and orbital pain (occurs within the eye).

Rub-on pain reliever can ease arthritis discomfort

Computer-related posture and discomfort in primary school children

Turkey Summons US Ambassador In Ankara To Express Discomfort [over US speech]

Other leaders expressed similar discomfort with the law but were not as outspoken, including the prime ministers of Canada and the United Kingdom.

discomfiture (noun):
1. Defeat in battle, overthrow, rout.

2. Frustration of plans or hopes; utter disappointment; perplexity, confusion; unease, embarrassment.

Discomfiture in the sense of a literal rout or defeat in battle is the word’s original meaning and occurs with some frequency in historical and religious works, but in current usage the usual sense is figurative.

Here are some examples of the use of discomfiture:

The Cup day at Goodwood was remarkable for the discomfiture.

France’s Foreign Policy: the Discomfiture of Gambetta’s Enemies

[Lebanon] has clearly been delighted by President Bashar al-Assad’s discomfiture…

Divest yourself of Bad Breath to Avoid Discomfiture in Public

Meanwhile, Democrats — who have few things to cheer them — are enjoying the Republicans’ discomfiture. (Washington Post)

Republican leaders are delighting in the Democrats’ discomfiture. (Los Angeles Times)

To sum up, “physical discomfort” is what you feel with a pebble in your shoe. “Mental discomfort” is what you feel when you hear a government spokesman or news anchor say “have went.” Discomfiture is what you feel when you are all set to give a PowerPoint lecture to a room full of people, and the projector won’t work.

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