Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

I can sort of understand why Dr. Glass named her business A-Whole Chiropractic:
A to get top billing in the Yellow Pages and
Whole ‘cause she makes her patients whole.

But, Dr. Glass, every writer has to keep a wary eye out for homonyms, homophones, and confusingly similar words. They can cause a lot of mischief, embarrassment and misunderstanding.

From the Urban Dictionary
A-hole
The polite way to use the wonderful expletive, ASSHOLE. They use this ALL the time on the radio, but I mean c’mon, it means the same damn thing…
Frank McCourt, previous owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is the biggest a-hole in baseball, maybe the world

Remember, your readers’ minds (at least if they’re like me) are in the gutter.

Homonyms are two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings.

Examples: bear (big, furry animal) and bear (to carry or support; endure), flea (an insect) and flee (to run away), earn (to achieve as a result of action) and urn (ornamental vase for holding ashes of the dead).

Homonyms come in two basic flavors:

Homographs share the same spelling, and sometimes the same sound, but have different meanings. Steve couldn’t bear to see the bear chained to a tree

Examples:  bow (type of knot) and bow (to incline), desert (abandon) and desert (arid land), and carp (a fish) and carp (to complain).

Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but differ in spelling and meaning, such as for, four, fore; there and they’re; and totootwo.

Written homophones are easy to spot. As you read, your eye scans a sentence and quickly understands the context in which a homophone is used.

The eye may not be fooled, but the ear stumbles over spoken homophones, resulting in a thoroughly confused listener. Juan won one two-to-one, too sounds like a series of numbers: 1-1-1-2-2-1-2.

Homophones and confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms and mondregreens are made of.

A malapropism is the unintentional misuse of a word by confusion with one of similar sound, with humorous results. Such as in this classified ad: Butchered peasants, $5 each. [Pheasants]

While a malapropism is misuse of a single word, a mondegreen is misinterpretation of a phrase or series of words that sounds like another phrase or series of words – and like malapropisms, the mistake is often amusing.

Mondegreens happen when people mishear song lyrics.

In Creedence Clearwater Revival’s classic song Bad Moon Rising, have you always heard “There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of the actual lyrics, “There’s a bad moon on the rise”?

In Purple Haze, does Jimi Hendrix say “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy” or do you hear the true lyrics, “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky”?

Those are two common mondegreens.

My favorite mondegreen is from Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets, “She’s got electric boobs, her mom has two” for “She’s got electric boots and mohair shoes.”

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

abjure  to renounce
adjure  to command, as under oath
Steve, we adjure you to forsake and abjure your stupid blog, Steve of Upland

adverse  opposed; hostile
averse  having a feeling of repugnance or distaste; disinclined
Steve is averse to give up his blog and cannot understand the adverse reaction Steve of Upland generates

ascetic  severe self-discipline and abstention from pleasure
aesthetic  love of beauty; concerned with pure emotion and sensation
Steve shifted from an aesthetic life to an ascetic existence after marrying Lizzie

bought  purchased
brought  past tense of bring: to carry, convey; to come with

can’t  cannot
cant  hypocritical and sanctimonious talk

Lisa Simpson encounters cant from an unexpected source

closure  bring to an end; conclusion
cloture  a method of closing

dew  moisture, especially in droplets
do  to act
due  owing

endemic  belonging exclusively or confined to a particular place
epidemic  extremely prevalent; widespread

hear  give heed or attention to what is said; listen
here  in this place

picnic  an outing where a packed meal is eaten outdoors
pyknic  having a rounded build or body structure; noun: a person of the pyknic type, like Roy here …

Roy is in great shape (round is a shape)

read  to peruse
reed  tall grass

read  past tense of read I read it in a magazine
red  the color

spruce  a type of tree
spruce  to make neat or dapper (often followed by up)

weald  wooded or uncultivated country
wield  to exercise power; to use effectively

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

Want to see all my postings on Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words? Click here

And please comment with your favorite homonyms. I’d also like to know your favorite malapropism or mondegreen.

I’m gonna watch some cartoons while I wait for your response.

I guess because Mickey is a mouse and not a person this doesn’t count as animal abuse. It’s animal-on-animal cruelty. And, hey, it’s just a cartoon! Like Itchy & Scratchy in the Simpsons.

Itchy and Scratchy cartoon

Click to see every Itchy & Scratchy segment ever made in one violently long supercut (48-minutes)

I do not want to hear your cant about how averse you are to the epidemic of gratuitous violence in the media. A-wholes like me love this stuff! What power do you wield to censor others? Life’s no picnic, you know! Or have you bought into the Big Lie? If you read my blog, that’s what you get – the TRUTH. I won’t spruce up the facts for you or anyone! Now you have me seeing red!

Let’s bring this post to closure.

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