The word concomitant is present in a lot of academic writing. I find myself wanting to use it frequently, but I usually find that other words like associated are just as suitable and are somewhat less pretentious.

An example from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

She loved travel, with all its concomitant worries.

I find that this says the same with less jargon:

She loved travel, with all its associated worries.

In fact, I couldn't think of any situations where it would be clearer to use concomitant. So, when is it right to use concomitant? Are there some instances where it says more than a substitute word like associated?

  • If you want to communicate effectively, the best approach for you to take is to pitch the formality of your vocabulary and/or the extent to which you use academic jargon at a level that matches what your audience (anticipated or actual) is likely to be comfortable with. If you're not sure where a possible selection sits in terms of its degree of formality, it can be useful to search for the term online to get an idea of the typical contexts in which it is used. – Erik Kowal Jan 18 '15 at 6:22
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    Concommitant means occurring or existing concurrently; attendant. It has a slightly different connotation than associated. It has its place in writing, as do most words. Pretentious is in the eyes of the beholder. People with a limited vocabulary might find a very large number of words pretentious, even some of the most beautiful words in our language. – anongoodnurse Jan 18 '15 at 7:13
  • @ErikKowal I'd love to learn more about this. Even in academic papers, I've tried my best to eradicate academic jargon, partly because I know how much I hate it in the papers I read, and partly for the fear of seeming pretentious. But I also see the point of matching the formality of the text to that of the audience. Is this mostly an unwritten rule, or is there some sort of guide on writing for different audiences? – Mark Bao Jan 18 '15 at 7:35
  • @medica well put. I think that meaning is close to what I get from concomitant, which is (as you say) slightly different than associated. Associated seems less directly simultaneous, more 'connected to' than 'concurrent with'. – Mark Bao Jan 18 '15 at 7:38
  • When you're replying to someone who just used "eleemosynary". – Hot Licks Jan 18 '15 at 20:20

Concomitant is a formal word. We would generally expect only those people who are regularly involved with high register language to be familiar and comfortable with it. Even such people may find it awkward or pretentious if they encounter the word in a non-formal situation.

It's helpful to understand the word's precise meaning and to use it when we want to communicate that precise meaning in a context where people are likely to expect high register language, and when no synonym has a meaning or feeling that better fits our communicative purpose in that context.

Sometimes we feel that someone is using a word like this mainly to demonstrate that they know it. We often experience this as pretentious or pompous.

The only way to improve our ability to make better decisions in contexts near the margins between formal and not-so-formal is through experience. Asking others for feedback or opinions can speed this process.

The core meaning of the word conveys a relationship in time:

Occurring or existing concurrently; attendant: poverty and its concomitant social problems. See Synonyms at contemporary.

It can sometimes be useful to search dictionaries for the term and notice the types of sentences used as examples. However, dictionaries often don't serve this purpose well (as the example in your question suggests). And perhaps lexicographers are not so concerned with helping us decide how, where, and when to best use a word as they are with trying to render clear its meanings.

(It seems to me that the idea in the example sentence would better be communicated something like She loved travel, even with all its pressures and worries. Or, She loved travel in all its aspects, including the worries.) I don't get a feeling that anything about the sentence besides the word is formal in tone, or that it belongs in a formal text.

The first example here represents to me an effective and appropriate use of the word in a sentence that might be used to communicate clinical or research information among medical scholars or professionals. The third example there, in contrast, strikes me as a poor use of the word. Entertainment Weekly is not a formal publication, and we can, I think, replace the word with usual to achieve a cleaner, more straightforward message without losing any significant value. My personal reaction is to think that the writer is deliberately trying to impress, and I'd tend to stop reading to speculate on the writer's insecurity and perhaps to roll my eyes.

We can often get more detailed and useful information on use in context from language corpora.

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    Formal but fairly common I'd say. books.google.com/ngrams/… – user66974 Jan 18 '15 at 11:23
  • More than an answer, a sensible essay on the use of "concomitant" – Centaurus Jan 18 '15 at 12:13
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    I find it difficult to read with concomitant eye rolling. – andy256 Jan 19 '15 at 7:16

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