Homonyms are words that sound the same and sometimes even have the same spelling, but they have different meanings and origins. Examples are so and sew, here and hear, and bear (the animal) and bear (to tolerate).
Homonyms come in two flavors:
Homophones are words that sound identical but differ in spelling and meaning, such as to, too, two.
Homographs are words identical in spelling and often with the same sound, but they have different meanings. An example is well, a hole drilled in the earth to obtain water, and well, in good health.
And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as my favorites penal and penile, which I discussed in an earlier post. Confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms are made of: He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.
Here are a few of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:
beek to bask or warm in the sunshine or before a fire.
beak the bill of a bird
century a period of 100 years
gait manner of walking
gate opening in a wall or fence
golf you know, game with balls and clubs; “a good walk spoiled,” according to Mark Twain
gulf a portion of an ocean or sea partly enclosed by land; wide separation
miner one who works in a mine
minor one who has not attained majority
morning before noon, the a.m., where’s my coffee?
mourning the act of sorrowing
Is it “Mourning Becomes Electra” or “Morning Becomes Electra”?
premier first in rank; chief; leading
premiere to present publicly for the first time
So you would say, “The Grilled Cheese Truck is the premier gourmet food truck in Los Angeles,” not “the premiere gourmet food truck.”
pale deficient in color
retch to try to vomit
wretch miserable and unhappy person; a vile person
Whenever I peer into a mirror, I see a wretch and retch
tare the weight of a container that is deducted from the gross weight to obtain net weight
tear to pull apart or in pieces by force
I know, tear, as in to pull apart, should really be spelled tare; let’s leave tear to “a drop of the saline, watery fluid continually secreted by the lacrimal glands between the surface of the eye.”
But that’s English for you. It’s enough to make you shed a tear and tare your hair out.
FUN WITH HOMONYMS
I love the way Spell Check blithely and shamelessly mishandles homonyms, homophones and other confusingly similar words.
I’ve seen the following Ode to Spell Check all over the web but have never figured out who originally wrote it.
Eye have a spelling chequer, it came with my pea sea. It plainly marques four my revue Miss Steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say Weather eye am wrong oar write, it shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore two long And eye can put the error rite Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it I am shore your pleased two no Its letter perfect awl the weigh My chequer tolled me sew.
I’d love to know your favorite homographs, homophones and confusingly similar words. Please comment below.
See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words I’ve posted to date.