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On the Adam Smith's Wikipedia page there is a picture of David Hume, with the caption:

David Hume was a friend and contemporary of Smith's.

Obviously, friend and contemporary are by no means synonyms. While a contemporary might not be a friend (possibly not even an acquaintance), a friend is always (according to my understanding) a contemporary. After all, it would be quite puzzling if I claimed I am (was) friend with Aristotle.

Therefore, since friendship implicitly assumes contemporaneity, isn't the caption actually a (partial) pleonasm?

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    Two people could be simultaneously alive but have so great an age gap that it could be a stretch to call them "contemporaries." When Charlie Chaplin died, Tom Cruise was 15, but you'd hardly call them contemporaries. Feb 29 at 14:58
  • @AndyBonner - Chaucer and Petrarch (as in the OP_linked Merriam-Webster example as 'contemporaries') were born 30-40 years apart Petrarch 1306, Chaucer '1340s'. Cruise and Chaplin were 73 years apart (1889 & 1962); they were alive at the same time for 15 years, so I think it would be OK to call them contemporaries. Feb 29 at 16:43
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    I don't understand this compulsion that questioners on this site have to condemn pieces of writing as pleonasms. Are people morally opposed to the inclusion of additional information, or any kind of redundancy? Pixels and bits are cheap these days.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 29 at 16:46
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    And I don't understand why a question like this would be closed. Sometimes, I think the respondents don't understand what it means to be a language learner.
    – Lambie
    Feb 29 at 17:36
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    What aspect of English are you hoping to learn about? Have you checked the meaning of "contemporary" in any dictionaries? I think that would answer the question for you
    – gotube
    Feb 29 at 20:19

3 Answers 3

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contemporary means of the same age as used there.

Merriam Webster:

2 : one of the same or nearly the same age as another

So, you can be a friend and not the same age or nearly the same age as another.

He was a friend of x but they were not of the same generation.

You can be friends with someone from a different generation in which case you are not their contemporary.

French John Gower, a contemporary and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer in the late fourteenth century, wrote in all three languages. His ballades include the French poem Traitié pour les amantz marietz, promoting the virtues of married love. UK friend and contemporary

New works by the octogenarian artist Lucian Freud go on display today alongside paintings by Frank Auerbach, his contemporary and friend, and his artistic inspiration, John Constable. UK friend and contemporary

UK: Google: About 72,300 results (0.17 seconds)

dot com: google: About 1,380,000 results (0.38 seconds)

The terms appearing together do not constitute a pleonasm. The adjective and noun do not differ in that respect.

Collins Dictionary: 3. COUNTABLE NOUN Someone's contemporary is a person who is or was alive at the same time as them.

  1. ADJECTIVE Contemporary people or things were alive or happened at the same time as something else you are talking about.
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  • Cambridge Dictionary gives two meanings of 'contemporary' (noun): 1. Someone living during the same period as another: [example] Franklin and Jefferson were contemporaries. 2. A person who is the same age as you. Benjamin Franklin (b.1706) and Thomas Jefferson (b.1743) were famously 'friends of different generations' Feb 29 at 15:17
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    On the basis of of the first meaning, I was a contemporary of Joseph Stalin, because we were both alive at the same time between April 1952 and March 1953. Feb 29 at 15:35
  • @MichaelHarvey I can think of a bunch of dictators I was the contemporary of, which I don't want to point out. haha. I like your Franklin/Jefferson point.
    – Lambie
    Feb 29 at 16:17
  • Hume (1711) and Smith (1723) were 12 years apart in age. Feb 29 at 16:47
  • @MichaelHarvey We get the idea.
    – Lambie
    Feb 29 at 17:36
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My guess would be that it is used here to mean they were relevant at roughly the same time. I.e. that they are of similar age or that they were producing work/ideas at a similar time. A child could be friends with someone very old but I think I would find it odd to describe them as contemporaries.

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Several others have pointed out that "contemporary" can mean that there is any overlap at all in your lifespan, or that you are approximately the same age or are working during the same period. By the second definition, one could be a friend but not a contemporary.

If Al died in February 1960, and Bob was born in January 1960, their lifespans overlapped, but few would call them "contemporaries".

More relevantly, if we were talking about the work of two philosophers, and Al died when Bob was 10 years old, their lifespans overlapped by 10 years, but we would be unlikely to call them "contemporaries" because Bob did not start his life's work until after Al was dead. It would be possible for two people to be friends but for one to not begin his life work until after the other had died. We MIGHT call them contemporaries. It would be a question of definitions.

But even if we suppose for whatever reason that the first definition is meant, so what? Redundancy is often helpful for emphasis or clarity. If a reader thought they were not contemporaries, he might be puzzled how they could be friends, and think you must mean this in some metaphorical sense, like that they held similar ideas even though they never met. By adding "and contemporaries" the writer immediately clears up such a possible source of confusion.

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  • Looking from a different angle, I reached a similar conclusion - that although "pleonastic", the words also somehow complete each other. That was one of the reasons to come here, instead of just modifying the Wikipedia page.
    – virolino
    Mar 1 at 11:48
  • @virolino You really should not keep calling this a pleonasm. It isn't.
    – Lambie
    Mar 4 at 16:48

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