Some dictionary definitions (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/extempore) of extempore I found allow only without preparation:

Spoken or done without preparation.

Some (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/extemporaneous) allow also the other meaning without notes:

a (1) : composed, performed, or uttered on the spur of the moment : impromptu an extemporaneous comment

(2) : carefully prepared but delivered without notes or text

c : happening suddenly and often unexpectedly and usually without clearly known causes or relationships

b : skilled at or given to extemporaneous utterance

I have often heard using the phrase speak extempore as speak without notes. Also one of the questions here on ELU uses the word in this meaning: Antonyms for "extempore" — speak without notes.

Can I use the word extempore when I want to underline the fact that someone is speaking without notes, and still well prepared? What would that word primarily mean if I just say "The mayor had an impressive extempore speech"?

I am confused - the M-W definitions a(1) and a(2) seem to be in conflict.

"Multiple distinct meanings" are OK, but "multiple (almost) opposite meanings" are confusing, especially for loanwords, where we often use a loanword for increasing precision of expressing, like in technical language.

  • Broadly, they are the same. If you care about a difference, what did your research leave unclear, please? – Robbie Goodwin Jul 5 '18 at 21:00

The contradiction that you see is between 'impromptu' and carefully prepared. Yes, those are contradictory, but no, Merriam-Webster is not in error.

First, it should be recognized that words can have multiple distinct meanings. They usually are closely related

crane - the bird and the construction equipment

but may not be:

rose - the flower and the past tense of 'to rise'.

But then, what may not be apparent is that some words have become their own opposite or a contronym (or auto-antonym):

fast — moving rapidly or unmoving.

Which is all to say that it is not a problem that 'extempore' or 'ex tempore' can mean either 'without preparation' or 'without notes (but possibly prepared)'. Well, it's not a problem, context should distinguish, or, if not, the distinction is probably not important. Usually the word means without explicit preparation, but that situation overlaps with the situation of without memory aids (like notes or slides) because frankly even when something is done off-the-cuff, the words and thoughts have been done in some manner before.

If you must distinguish or be perfectly clear, you can obviously say 'prepared by without notes' or more likely 'from memory':

"The mayor had an impressive memorized speech".

This immediately implies that the mayor is not reading but has been well-prepared.

As far as 'extemporaneous' goes, it is more commonly used for 'without preparation'. Even though M-W says that some people use it for 'memorized', that is not how most people understand it, so you should not use extempore' for 'well-prepared but no notes'.

M-W reflects usage and even if people use a word in a non-standard manner, they may give an entry for it. Unfortunately, they don't always specify when a usage is non-standard even if it is contradictory to the primary, standard meaning.

  • 1
    'Rose' (the flower) and 'rose' (the past tense of 'rise') are different words. They are listed in dictionaries under different headwords, and have totally different etymologies. This is not one word with two very different meanings. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 4 '18 at 21:49
  • "Multiple distinct meanings" are OK, but "multiple (almost) opposite meanings" are confusing, especially for loanwords, where we often use a loanword for increasing precision of expressing, like in technical language. – Honza Zidek Jun 5 '18 at 6:20

As in:

‘Some of them knew how to cast a spell on their audience by delivering a speech extempore.’

Meaning without preparation (they spoke off the cuff).

Your definitions #1 and 2 are in concordance with each other. Here is another sentence using the word without reference to speaking:

As in:

‘The original kayak, though, was an amazing piece of extempore engineering.’

Meaning engineering on the go, without written plans or instructions.

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