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Pay a compliment

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 06, 2011 at 08:49

In Reply to: Pay a compliment posted by Colin on January 05, 2011 at 14:22:

: Where does the saying "pay a compliment" originate from?

Since the Middle Ages the word "pay" has meant, among other things, "to give, render [something which is due to or rightfully claimed by the recipient]". You would pay someone homage (in the literal feudal sense), allegiance, a debt, a promise, etc. From at least Shakespeare's time the word was used in a weaker sense, "to render, bestow, or give [something which you don't absolutely have to give]". In this sense, from 1600 onwards you could pay someone heed / a welcome / your addresses (=courtship) / your respects / no mind / a compliment. (In fact, in Shakespeare's time you could have "paid a compliment" in the earlier sense too. The earliest meaning of "compliment" is "a ceremonial act or expression of courtesy"; e.g. appropriate greetings, taking off one's hat, firing cannon salutes, etc. As any diplomat will tell you, these things are important and not optional in formal settings; one really does have to "pay" the appropriate courtesy.) (VSD)