They are both derived from the French world complaire, which means "pleased"

According to this source, "the two words overlapped in meaning until the middle of the 19th century."

How do they differ in meaning today, and why did they deviate? My understanding is that one refers to "not knowing" (something bad), while the other refers to "not wanting to know" it. Is this correct? Or are they still different spellings of the same word (which have been the case at one time?

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    One has an /s/ and one has a /z/. – John Lawler Feb 21 '15 at 0:56
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    Mainly, most people would interpret "complaisant" to be a misspelling of "complacent". And, if you insisted it was a real word, they wouldn't know what it means. – Hot Licks Feb 21 '15 at 4:42
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    What has “complacent” got to do with “complaisant,” roots apart? Have you checked their respective meanings? Are you familiar with their usage? etymonline.com/index.php?term=complaisance etymonline.com/index.php?term=comply – Kris Feb 21 '15 at 6:42
  • Voting to close as NARQ. – Kris Feb 21 '15 at 6:43
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    @Hot Licks: But some of us do recognise the two different words. And anyone with access to a halfway-decent dictionary can easily establish what they mean. Complaisant disposed to please; obliging, politely agreeable, courteous. Complacent Feeling or showing pleasure or satisfaction, esp. in one's own condition or doings; self-satisfied. According to OED, complacent meaning complaisant is an obsolete usage. – FumbleFingers Feb 24 '15 at 3:06

Complacent means

  1. pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied: The voters are too complacent to change the government.
  2. pleasant; complaisant.

Complaisant means

  1. inclined or disposed to please; obliging; agreeable or gracious; compliant: the most complaisant child I've ever met.

(Definitions from dictionary.com)

So the first term usually means you are satisfied with the status quo while unaware of a danger lying ahead, and the second means eager to please; however, the secondary definition of complacent is as an alternate spelling of complaisant.

Both words can be pronounced the same, with /s/, but the second can also be pronounced with a /z/.

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