Compliance, or accommodating the regulatory demands of a hyperactive government, has become a major preoccupation for every business. Some complain that compliance has in fact become their business, leaving business as a part-time activity. This narrow sense of the word is quite recent and American in origin: the Americans had a word for it, and an officer in charge of it, and a department to carry it out while we continued to wonder whether it was still legal to advertise for a Girl Friday. But 'compliance' itself is an old word and concept. It came from the French complir, to fill or complete, although it sounds like it has more to do with 'pliant', meaning easily persuaded. In the 17th century, when 'compliance' arrived, it had two meanings: on the one hand, an agreement or friendly relationship; on the other, yielding, submission and a willingness to conform. You may be able to guess which version died out – and which lives on to brighten our business lives.
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