Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

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 sewhere and hear, and bear (the animal), bear (to tolerate), and bare (naked).

Homonyms come in two flavors:

Homophones are words that sound identical but differ in spelling and meaning, such as totootwo; and so, sow, sew.

Homographs are words identical in spelling and often with the same sound, but have different meanings. An example is well, a hole drilled in the earth to obtain water, and well, in good health.

Homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms are made of.

Here’s one from Joy Turner, the trailer park queen on the TV show My Name Is Earl:
Oh, my God, that crazy bitch tried to constipate the marriage! [consummate]

Some (homonym: sum) of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

apposite  being of striking appropriateness and relevance; very applicable; apt
opposite  contrary or radically different in some respect common to both, as in nature, qualities, direction

beer  according to Homer Simpson, the cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems
bier  frame on which a coffin or corpse is placed before burial

gnome   dwarfish creature supposed to guard the earth’s treasures underground
gnome  a short statement encapsulating a general truth; a maxim
Steve coined the gnome that garden gnomes outside a mobile home are a sure sign of an elderly white female resident.

South Park’s underpants gnomes guarding their underground treasure

meretricious  whorish, superficially appealing, pretentious
meritorious  deserving reward or praise
Steve swelled with pride when a reader left a comment  saying his WordPress blog is “meretricious.”    Umm, wait a minute…

quash  to annul; to reject (by legal authority) as not valid
squash  to crush; to squeeze

rap  sharp blow or knock
rap  a negative, often undeserved reputation, as in bum rap
rap  to speak frankly
  to cover
wrap  an outer garment
wrap  complete filming
Steve’s rap is that the producers gave him a bum rap when they claimed he gave the assistant director a rap on the head on purpose, that every time he came on the set he would inappropriately wrap himself around Teri Hatcher [it was the other way around!], and that he went off script by insisting Superman’s cape should be called a wrap — and that’s why he wasn’t invited to the wrap party.

Teri Hatcher in Superman’s wrap

There’s also rap music, and probably a couple more, but my usage example is already way too long and I’m way too lazy to spend any more time on that stupid sentence.

raise  to elevate; to build
rays  beams of light
raze  to destroy to the ground

rest  to repose
wrest  to gain by force or violence

sail  a piece of fabric by means of which the wind propels a ship
sale  selling of goods at bargain prices
Missing that sale on Beano at Walgreen’s really took the wind out of my sail.

waist  the narrowed part of the body between the chest and hips
waste  useless consumption or expenditure

wait  to remain inactive in readiness or expectation
weight  amount that something weighs

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words that I’ve posted to date.

Gnomes’ Noses & Funny Phones

Let’s go back to gnome. Gnome is on the  short list of English words beginning gn, with the letter g silent.

I’m no etymologist, but I bet we can thank the Greeks for giving us almost all those funny looking gn words.

The Greek language is also behind all those ph words pronounced with an f, as in pharmacy, phone and photo.

Long before they ruined the European economy, the Greeks messed up our ability to spell English-language words by the way they sound.

I’m not complaining that phonemic spelling in English is so difficult — that’s how I get homophones and malapropisms for my blog!

Besides gnome, a few other words that start with gn are…
gnar snarl, growl
gnarled knobby, rough and twisted, esp. with age
gnash grind one’s teeth together as a sign of anger
gnat tiny flying insect
gnathic of or relating to the jaws
gnaw bite at or nibble something persistently
gnomonics the art of constructing and using sundials
gnostic of or relating to knowledge, esp.  mystical knowledge
gnu large, dark antelope with a long head, also called wildebeest

Several words end in gn, such as align, design, foreign. Same thing: the g doesn’t do anything but stand there. But somehow it just looks right, giving truth to Milton’s line, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Many more words–hundreds of’em, maybe thousands–end with ng. That whole ing thing.

Now there’s some useless knowledge for you, as Lizzie is quick to point out. “Show the sun with a lantern, Steve, why dontcha?”

Excuse me while I go gnar at my wife.

Ever since I started participating in the Post A Day/Post A Week Challenge from WordPress, a diabolical experiment in blogging motivation, Lizzie has complained that I spend far too much time on my blog.

Like, I should be using the time I put into my blog paying attention to her. It’s not as if I’m already Lizzie’s goddamn caregiver, taking care of her 24/7… preparing her meals, taking care of the housework, giving her baths, all that stuff.

I hate to paint with a broad brush, but invalids are truly a royal pain in the ass. Why, I could have been somebody, if only…

Whew! Enough gnashing of teeth. Sorry I pulled you into that little domestic.

It’s just that Lizzie doesn’t appreciate that what I’m doing here is important. She doesn’t realize that my blog, Steve of Upland, is—as others have noted—meretricious.


What’s In A Word: Oh, Snap!

I look into the origin of words or phrases that catch my interest

“Oh, snap!” is a sanitized expletive frequently used by the gloriously trashy Joy Turner on the TV show My Name is Earl.

In moments of consternation, shock, surprise, dismay — anytime anyone not subject to network censors would blurt out an “Oh, shit!” — Joy uses “Oh, snap!”

If it weren’t for the prissy censorship of network TV and the seven-dirty-words-you-can’t-say-on-TV, I’m sure Joy would raise the art of profanity to new heights. Blister paint off a wall from fifty feet away, as they say.

I just saw an episode today where new neighbors push Joy’s buttons and she responds with  “Oh, snappity snap! Snap! Snap! Snap!” Joy really snaps!

Joy definitely has a way with words: “Get me up! This mattress is pressing against me like a creepy uncle.” Uttered when a very pregnant Joy gets stuck between the mattress and the bed frame.

And consider this moment of self-reflection:
“You know the kind of woman who could’ve been the next Faith Hill, but somewhere along the way discovered peach daiquiri, put a diaphragm in on her own, and wound up smack dab in the middle of trailer hell raising two kids? Yep, she still manages to look hot and you can bounce a quarter off her butt cause you gotta take of yourself. I mean, come on. Anyway, that’s me. My name is Joy.”

Here’s more Joy:

Joy: I want half that lotto money, Earl.
Earl: Yeah? Well, I wanted a legitimate baby and a wife who didn’t huff paint on Thanksgiving, but I guess life’s full of little disappointments, now ain’t it?

[brandishing a weed whacker at Earl] YOU gotta do something! Like provide for me! I am the queen! You are the worker bee! Your job is to feed me, do me, and die!

Joy: Hey, Darnell, can you see my thong when I bend over?
Crabman: What thong?!
Joy: Perfect!

Joy: You that weird guy that likes to watch me take my underwear off my clothesline?
Philo: One of them, yes, ma’am.

“Flavored vodka is for sissies and pregnant women!”
In one episode I saw, Joy brags she was so responsible during her first pregnancy that she switched to Marlboro Lights.

[playing an IQ game]
“I swear to God, I used to be able to do this drunk when I was little.”

Joy: [standing naked in front of Randy] Randy, do you know where babies come from?
Randy: Yeah, the bottom of that fuzzy lightning bolt.

Joy Turner is one of my all time favorite TV sit-com characters. Jaime Pressly, who plays Joy, is a fantastic comedic actress. She turns a one-dimensional role into a tour de force.

Reminds me of what Don Knotts did with the character of Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show (if that doesn’t date me, I don’t know what will).

Jaime, a former model, won an Emmy in 2007 for her work as Joy Turner in MNIE.

Unfortunately, Pressly’s personal life is in a bit of turmoil these days. In January 2011 she was arrested on a DUI in Santa Monica (where I once lived long ago and briefly describe as part of an earlier post). Following her arrest, she filed for divorce.

I hope, like Earl, she turns her life around. I’d like to see her in other roles, something where she can really stretch her comedic skills. I hope Jaime isn’t typecast as Joy. Don Knotts never did escape from Barney Fife.

Now some of you are saying, “Where have you been?” My Name is Earl ended in 2009 after four seasons.

Yeah, my pop culture IQ is about as high as Earl’s brother Randy’s standard IQ (which is, of course, room temperature).

I only recently started watching reruns of My Name Is Earl, accidentally discovering Earl, Joy, Randy, Crabman and the other dippy denizens of fictional Camden (21st-century America’s version of the idyllic Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show) when one day my wife broke from her usual line-up of daytime TV programs. Yes, it’s quite a life I’m having.

I can see why I’m so drawn to My Name Is Earl, a comedy about life at the bottom of the barrel. And redemption.

Joy’s trailer park (set built for TV show)

I live in what some (mostly elitist snobs) would call a trailer park, though it’s actually a mobile home park.

Even better, the park’s name is Oasis Mobile Estates. Estates, mind you. Much nicer than the Camden trailer park that’s home to Joy and Crabman and assorted lowlife, the typical stereotypes people have of “trailer park trash.”

We mobile home park residents get no respect.

But many years ago, during the lowest point of my life, I did live in a trailer park much like Joy’s — the Star Trailer Park in Ontario (that’s Ontario, California).

The Star Trailer Park is right behind the Capri Motel on a dreary, disreputable section of Holt Blvd., a street that runs from Despair directly to Degradation. At least that’s how I remember it in the late 1970s, early ’80s.

What a falling off was there: I was a lowlife loser much like Earl, bankrupt in every department.

And like Earl I had an epiphany of sorts. I turned my life around, though it wasn’t a straight line up. Recovery took a lot of time—it’s still going on, in fact.

As Earl discovers as he works through his list of wrongs to right, becoming a better person is a constant struggle to escape the tyranny of self — to turn away from pride, self-will, self-centeredness, all that self crap.

That’s the redemptive power of selflessness, of paying more attention to others than to yourself, of  unconditional love — the message Jesus keeps hammering on. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Today, my wife and I were in the area and we drove through Star Trailer Park, the first time we’ve been back in 27 years.

We could have been on the set for My Name Is Earl.  I almost expected to see Joy on one of the rickety stoops yelling at her kids.

As we slowly drove through the park, Lizzie and I remembered with fondness the many characters who inhabited the Star Trailer Park in our era: Chuck & Linda, Nita—all three bartenders at the infamous Orange Hotel (which burnt down more than 20 years ago, much to the relief of the city fathers); Skin Boy (the most minor of minor criminals: Skin Boy looked menacing, but I suspect he never got so much as a parking ticket — like Fonzie on Happy Days);  irrepressible and hilarious Shorty, the World War II vet, with his gigantic nose and rattling, raspy voice that sounded like crunching gravel; and Dolores, another bartender (Club Tahiti Cocktail Lounge, also long gone — the site of that dive bar where I spent so many hours — and paychecks — is today a parking lot).

With her blonde beehive and skin-tight jeans, Dolores was stuck in her heyday of 1962.  She even drove a turquoise ’62 Ford T-Bird convertible. Dolores would be perfect as Joy’s grandma, circa 1980.

Roseanne Barr as Millie Banks, the crazy manager of Earl’s trailer park. Mean, strict Millie reminds me of Mrs. Hitler, a park manager who tormented me 30 years ago.

We passed the manager’s trailer at the park entrance. In my time, it was the home of the authoritarian and much feared Mr & Mrs Hitler.

That’s what we Star Trailer Park residents called that power-mad couple, whose mission was to relentlessly harass us about every little infraction of park rules.

Mrs. Hitler, an ugly, heavy-set woman who never smiled, was especially intimidating.

I told Lizzie the Hitlers are now managing a trailer park in Hell, and she laughed appreciatively. A pleasant thought, though it can’t be pleasant for the sinners in Hell’s trailer park, condemned to eternity under their regime.

Oh, snap! I’ve strayed far from the subject matter.

I did some research and found that Joy Turner doesn’t have a monopoly on popularizing oh, snap. Far from it.

Long before MNIE, oh, snap was heard on the Dave Chappelle Show and even earlier on In Living Color. From what I learned it’s been used regularly by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

In Edward Champion’s online article The Mysterious Origins of “Oh Snap!” he traces the phrase back 60 years to England and says oh, snap was first popularly used in America by the hip-hop community in the 1980s and 1990s.

Wikipedia doesn’t even mention Joy Turner or My Name Is Earl.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Oh snap

Oh Snap or Aw Snap may refer to:

  • Tracy Morgan, a Saturday Night Live comedian who popularized the phrase
  • Biz Markie, who popularized the phrase with his career-defining hit “Just A Friend”
  • Oh Snap!, an indie rock band from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
  • Oh Snap (EP), an EP by the Christian rock band Philmont
  • Aw, Snap!, an error message in Google Chrome
  • Aw Snap, a game on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Meanwhile, at Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Novia Scotia…

Ricky and Julian of Canadian TV’s Trailer Park Boys. Perpetually drunk, loaded and unemployed, Ricky and Julian, along with their friend Bubbles, are too busy doing crimes to worry about karma and redemption. The show follows the lovable lowlifes’ misadventures at a Canadian version of  Joy’s trailer park. Click on Ricky & Julian to visit Sunnyvale Trailer Park.

Favorite Quotes

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction

Blaise Pascal
Pensées No. 894

Blaise Pascal, seventeenth-century genius on many levels: mathematician, physicist, inventor, essayist,  and philosopher.

I came across this familiar quote from my old friend Blaise Pascal as I was reading The Anatomy of Evil by Dr. Michael H. Stone.

Dr. Stone’s book is an in-depth study of the personality traits and behavior that constitute evil, how it is that a cute little baby can grow up to be a Charles Manson, Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.

Inspired by the circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, where the sinners get progressively worse, Dr. Stone, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, presents a 22-level hierarchy of evil, ranging from murderers whose crimes, though shocking, are at least understandable — a son murdering in cold blood his abusive father — to those who commit unspeakable crimes without remorse. Evil done through religious zeal is at one of those levels (I think it’s 8 or 9).

After citing Pascal’s famous quote, Dr. Stone illustrates the point with the transcript of an “honor killing” inadvertently recorded by the FBI after they planted a bug in the St. Louis home of Zein Isa, a Muslim fundamentalist who had emigrated to the US from the West Bank.

Zein’s sixteen-year-old daughter Palestina was becoming Americanized and increasingly defiant. She shortened her name to Tina and began dating an African-American. Zein became unhinged. “In his interpretation of his culture,” writes Dr. Stone, “this called for an ‘honor killing,’ lest the girl disgrace the family by dating a man objectionable to the father.”

The three voices on the tape are Zein, Tina and Zein’s wife Maria (not Tina’s mother but Zein’s second wife, a Brazilian who just happens to be a Christian).

ZEIN: Here, listen, my dear daughter, do you know that this is the last day? Tonight you are going to die.

MARIA (the mother, after hearing Tina’ shrieks, and holding the girl down): Keep still!

TINA: Mother, please help me!

MARIA: Huh? What do you mean?

TINA: Help! Help!

MARIA: Are you going to listen?

TINA: Yes! Yes! Yes! I am! (coughing) No, please!

ZEIN: Die! Die quickly! Die quickly!

TINA: (moaning)

ZEIN: Quiet, little one! Die, my daughter! Die!

From The Anatomy of Evil, Dr. Michael H. Stone, MD. Page 106.

Zein was an uneducated man from a small town in the West Bank. He undoubtedly thought he was doing the right thing, and many in his traditional, misogynist culture would agree and condone his heinous crime.

Read the book, if you can stomach it, to find what is universally considered “evil,” and what breathtakingly horrendous crimes land some individuals, the worst of the worst, on level 22 of Stone’s hierarchy of evil. Damn book gave me nightmares.

The Anatomy of Evil is an important reference for people who work in the justice system and students of social psychology. But for me, the implications of Dr. Stone’s scientific approach to explaining evil are troubling.

What does it say about human nature that, under certain circumstances, ordinary people can do extraordinary evil? Is the capacity for evil built into our brains? Is there “evil” in each of us? Do bad people act out what good people think?

“We don’t like to be reminded that only humans can do these things,” Dr. Stone writes, “that evil is an exclusively human phenomenon.”

Pascal demands that we confront, not avoid, our propensity to do evil. He believed that man, ever since Adam’s fall, is fundamentally flawed and corrupt, in a sinful state of “wretchedness.”

Unworthy of God, yet the only of God’s creations who are self-aware, Pascal rates humans as both “the glory and the scum of the universe.” Self-awareness makes us human, it’s that part of us that is distinct and higher than our physical selves, the scummy part.

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed

In confronting our nature, in knowing our limitations and shortcomings, we become capable of God. Through the mystery of faith, we can move beyond the physical world — and evil — to the realm of God, salvation, and everlasting life. [If you’re thinking, “Oh, brother! A religious nut,” consider this: Pascal is one of history’s greatest mathematicians and scientists.]

When I read Anatomy of Evil, or the daily litany of sordid horror, great and small, in the news, the scum label comes through loud and clear. I also examine my life, my thoughts and actions. Believe me, I’m well aware of my own wretchedness.

But knowing our wretchedness is only half the battle. Solving the human dilemma, and the problem of evil, requires a leap of faith, a spiritual experience — a matter of the heart, not the mind. The power of reason, says Pascal, can’t cross the chasm that separates us from God and salvation. Faith can.

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t

Reason cannot prove God exists, can’t sort out the Big Questions in life, Pascal argues, so humans must rely on faith: “… only faith which responds to God’s grace, not purely intellectual enquiry, will explain human life properly and bring knowledge of God and true happiness.”

In Pascal’s view, Zein is outwardly a religious man, but he’s prideful, unaware that he’s caught in his baser instincts. “It is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness,” Pascal says, “and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it.”

Consider those slick-haired televangelists, with the used-car salesman’s smile, who preach a prosperity gospel, quote scripture, praise Jesus, all the while enriching themselves, living in multi-million-dollar mansions, flying in their private jets.

Think of the damage they do to the public image of God and to religion as they cheerfully go about their business, unaware of their own “wretchedness.”

The other side of the coin, in Pascal’s view, are humanists devoted only to reason and what’s “real” and provable, for whom faith is a logical absurdity and the source of a lot of what’s wrong in society.

There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy

Pascal’s quote about evil done through religious conviction is today often associated with Muslim extremists, especially the 9/11 terrorists. But the Europe Pascal knew was terrorized by Christian extremists, such as in the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, which went on for 300 years. Religious wars — Christians joyfully killing other Christians —  began a hundred years before Pascal’s birth and continued through most of his life. 

Blaise Pascal: Passion of a Mind on Fire

Pascal, a brilliant 17th-century mathematician and scientist, wrestled with the logical absurdity of faith and what he saw as the spiritual bankruptcy of reason.

Reason told him the universe was impersonal, mechanical and ultimately meaningless: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.” He was dissatisfied with the limitations of rational inquiry, of life without spiritual experience.

He had a passionate heart and a powerful mind, and between them was a tug-of-war.

The tipping point (literally) in his life came one evening in 1654 when Pascal’s carriage almost went over the side of a bridge. Pascal, who was in poor health, sat helpless as he watched his horses plunge to their deaths. Believing he had been miraculously spared, he instantly had a dramatic religious conversion that he summed up in one word: “Fire.”

His faith caught fire as he realized that the “God of the philosophers” was not the God of the Bible. The God of the philosophers (the Chief Engineer of a mechanical universe) does not change the course of people’s lives, does not guide them through their trials and tribulations, does not deliver them from evil, nor, most important, offer them salvation and eternal life.

The God of the Bible interacts with humans. The God of the philosophers is a cold abstract concept.

Pascal lived at the dawn of the Age of Reason, a time of great political and religious upheaval. Philosophers and intellectuals proclaimed that man had outgrown God and religion.

Pascal rose to defend the Christian faith in writings such as his Pensees or Thoughts, notes and musings he jotted down in the years following his conversion but never organized before he died.

Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true

A beautiful mind gone to waste, the intellectuals of his day grumbled. Years later, Goethe would remark, “I’ll never forgive Christianity for what it did to Pascal.” [Oops! My bad. Nietzsche actually said that. See comments at end of post. ]

Even today, the science community doesn’t know what to make of Pascal’s conversion; some say he injured his head in that carriage accident and went batty.

Pascal doesn’t get the credit he deserves as one of the great figures in the history of science just because he “got religion,” proving scientists can be as narrow-minded and ideological as the religious faithful they look down on.

You cannot mix the supernatural with the natural, scientists say. Keep that mumbo jumbo over there and we’ll stay over here in the “real,” logical world. They won’t accept that science is not the only authority.

Scientists won’t accept that there is Something Else — another part to us than you can’t pick apart, analyze and prove.

But a basic precept of science is absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Case in point: the search for the “God particle,” the elusive Higgs boson, which according to theory holds all matter together.

Despite all the incredible advances in technology, despite great leaps in human knowledge and more educated people than ever before, the world is filled with misery and evil is still done.

Atheists who use science to attack religion are unwilling to consider religion, or any sort of metaphysical thinking, in their understanding of the world.

Yet, as Marilynne Robinson writes in Absence of Mind, “Reality consistently exceeds the expectations of science.”

I can see Pascal smiling at that.

The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason

For people of faith, God also consistently exceeds expectations. And that’s the difference between true believers and atheists.

Blaise Pascal: An Extraordinary Life

What a rare individual was Pascal, a genius of the highest magnitude with a mind on fire for his faith.

Pascal published his first scientific paper when he was eight years old. At the age of seventeen he presented a paper on the mathematical attributes of sections of cones, which led to projective geometry. When he was just twenty-three, Pascal made major discoveries in physics and proved the existence of the vacuum. He invented the syringe and hydraulic press, and formulated hydraulic principles that led to such devices as the controls on airplanes and the brakes on your car.

He helped shape the field of calculus. While gambling with dice Pascal came up with the mathematical theory of probability.

Pascal’s pascaline could mechanically calculate numbers up to 999,999,999.

His inventions include the pascaline, a mechanical device he built when he was nineteen  that could add and subtract, a precursor of the modern-day calculator and computer. A computer language is named after Pascal.

His last great scientific effort produced something we’re all familiar with today, especially city dwellers. As Pascal lay sick and confined to bed in his Paris apartment,  he watched the world pass by his window and noticed poor people trudging along while the rich rode in carriages.

In response, he conceived of and designed a system of public transportation using omnibuses (horse-drawn, of course) running along established routes, and this transportation system was instituted in 1662, the same year that Pascal died, at the age of thirty-nine.

His final flash of genius to benefit the foot-weary Parisian poor was the beginning of modern mass transit.

Want to know more about Blaise Pascal? I highly recommend Rick Wade’s article, Blaise Pascal: An Apologist for Our Times on the web at Leadership U. I’ll save you narrow-minded science folks a trip: you won’t like the evangelical tone.

“You always admire what you really don’t understand.” Blaise Pascal