Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

 

Homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words trick unwary writers into hilarious bloopers, embarrassing errors, and the outright idiocy you see in print and on the Web.

How about this question on Yahoo! Answers:
Does allowing a dog to catch rats, squirrels, golfers and other vermin and eating them pose an unreasonable risk?

Or newspaper headlines that trip over homonyms …
Escaped Leopard Believed Spotted
Models May Underestimate Climate Swings
Helicopter Powered By Human Flies
Woman Kicked By Horse Upgraded To Stable
Police Find Crack In Man’s Buttocks

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

Homonyms come in two basic flavors:

Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but differ in meaning, such as right and write, flee and flea, see and sea.

Homographs share the same spelling but have different meanings. An example is bear, meaning to hold, and bear, the big, furry mammal: Steve couldn’t bear to see the bear chained to a tree.

We also have heteronyms, words that share the same spelling but have different pronunciations. Heteronyms are homographs that are not homophones: Steve, you can either go bass fishing or play your bass guitar, which is it?

Click to enlarge

A really cool graph by Will Heltsley shows at a glance how words related by pronunciation, spelling, or meaning are categorized: Homograph Homophone Venn Diagram.

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as conscious and conscience, lightening and lightning, and of course, penal and penile.
Steve said it was “penile-related crime” that landed him in a penal institution.

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

abdominal  having to do with your belly abdominal pains
abominable  detestable; loathsome an abominable crime

Doesn’t look particularly abominable, but he’s definitely not an abdominal snowman

baloney  foolish or exaggerated talk
bologna  the lunch meat
Steve says it’s baloney that all he eats is bologna sandwiches

flour  powder made by grinding cereal grains
flower  the pretty part of a plant that houses reproductive structures

poor  indigent
pore  to gaze at intently
pore  small opening, as in the pores of your skin
pour  to cause to flow in a stream

That’s what the beaver said!

pussy  cat
pussy  vulgar, slang: female genitalia

Here’s a heteronym of the above two words:
pussy
  medical: containing or resembling  pus
Same spelling but different pronunciation — rhymes with fussy.

quiver  carrying case for arrows
quiver  shake or tremble

real  actual; genuine
reel  revolving device on which something flexible is wound

wound  past tense of wind – to coil about something; bend; turn; meander
wound  injury
————————————————

Chinese takes the gold in homonyms

I love the hilarious mischief, awful puns, and silly wordplay the English language’s many homonyms, homophones & confusingly similar words make possible.

But if I really want to have fun with words, maybe I should learn Chinese.

The Chinese language has far more homonyms than English. Nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones.

And with half-a-billion Chinese on the Internet texting and blogging, the Chinese have become world champs in puns and wordplay, both for amusement and to avoid censorship.

That’s what I learned in a fascinating article by Nina Porzucki posted on the world in words, a WordPress blog I enjoy from public radio reporter Patrick Cox. Here’s an excerpt …

How Technology is Changing Chinese, One Pun at a Time

When Sabrina Zhang and Jack Wang took their high school writing exam in China they remember a funny new rule written at the bottom of the test.

“You can’t use Internet words in the writing,” remembers Zhang. But, says Wang, “It’s just natural right when we use it. It’s the youth way of expressing ourselves.”

What might seem like the petty irritation of an old-fashioned professor might actually be something bigger.

The Internet has become a place for people to play with the Chinese language

There are now more than 500 million people online in China. They are microblogging, instant messaging, texting. The result is changing the Chinese language says David Moser, an American linguist living in Beijing.

According to Moser, the Internet has become a place for people to play with the Chinese language. Puns and wordplay have a long history in Chinese culture.

Chinese is the perfect language for punning because nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones. Homophones are two words that sound similar but have different meanings like hare that rabbit-like creature and the hair on your head. In Chinese there are endless homophones.

Forbidden or taboo words in Chinese are taboo precisely because they sound like another word

“Because there are so many homophones there’s sort of a fetish about them,” says Moser. “As far as the culture goes back you have cases of homophone usage and homophone humor.” Many times forbidden or taboo words in Chinese are taboo precisely because they sound like another word.

4 = Death, 8 = Prosperity

A good example of this is the number four, which in Chinese sounds like the word for death and the number eight, which sounds like the word for prosperity. Moser has a Chinese aunt who used to work for the phone company and she could make money selling phone numbers. People would beg her for a phone number with a lot of eights. “People would actually give her gifts or bribes for an auspicious phone number,” says Moser.

The Internet is ripe with clever examples of how people evade the censors

Today, wordplay online has less to do with getting auspicious numbers and more to do with getting around censorship. Moser cites an example of a recent phrase he saw online mentioning the Tiananmen Square incident – only the netizen didn’t use the words “Tiananmen Square” or even 6/4, which refers to the date the incident took place. Tiananmen Square and 6/4 are both censored online. Instead the netizen referred to the “eight times eight incident.” Moser was confused when he first saw the reference. “And then I figured out, eight times eight is 64,” says Moser.

The Internet is ripe with clever examples of how people evade the censors. However, censorship is just one reason netizens play with words online. Another is the very technology that enables people today to input Chinese characters onto their cell phones and computers.

Read the complete article here

Ha! Ha!

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

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2 thoughts on “Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

  1. Steve says:

    Fun with homophones for pussy

    Lyrics to The Pussy Song by Ivor Biggun

    Here pussy, pussy…
    Miaow miaow miaow miaow

    My girl has got a pussy
    She keeps it hid from view
    And everywhere that she goes
    That pussy goes there too

    It don’t drink milk or wash it’s face
    And it don’t even purr
    But it’s got lovely whiskers
    And a lot of ginger fur

    A week ago last Tuesday
    I come home from the pub
    I said “Where’s that little pussy
    That I love to stroke and rub”

    But pussy wasn’t willing
    And it was plain to see
    Someone had already stroked her and
    That someone wasn’t me

    And… somebody else is stroking
    The pussy that I thought was mine

    Someone’s petting and poking and
    It really is a crime
    And now my heart is broken
    I’ll kill that filthy swine

    ‘Cause somebody else is stroking
    The pussy that I thought was mine

    Miaow… pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy, pussy

    Ivor Biggun songs on iTunes …
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/ivor-biggun/id99009238

  2. Steve says:

    I write my blog mostly to please myself, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of reaching my target audience. I’m practically the only one who leaves comments on Steve of Upland blog posts. The stats show an average of 3,000 visitors a month to my blog, but I only hear back from me, myself, and I.

    I guess people on the Internet are as unimpressed and/or bored with what I have to say as they are in real life.

    Imagine my surprise, then, when the other week I discovered that a newspaper columnist in Sri Lanka (I don’t even know where that country is!) had stolen content from my blog, from this very post of Homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words.

    Yes, stolen! Plagarized! From me!

    See for yourself: Compare the second half of Leave me alone you darn homophone! by Gaston de Rosayro published on the online version of Sri Lanka’s The Nation newspaper with my post, written a month previous to Gaston’s column.
    http://www.nation.lk/edition/fine/item/9853-leave-me-alone-you-darn-homophone.html

    More bemused than upset, I casually mentioned the plagiarism to my sister Bonnie in an email on an unrelated matter.

    Well, if you mess with me, you mess with my sisters (I have four).

    Gaston de Rosayro’s shameless theft of my content, to which he attached his own byline, nagged at Bonnie, and she actually emailed Gaston and rubbed the theft in his face.

    Gaston is lucky he heard from my sister Bonnie and not another of my sisters, Monica, who is a real TERROR.

    I reproduce the emails in chronological order below as a warning to all those who think they can get away with taking content from Steve of Upland without attribution. You will hear from one of my sisters. God help you if it’s Monica.

    A little background: The first email, mine, is to thank Bonnie and her husband Chuck for their Christmas present to me and my wife Liz, a package containing Chuck’s delicious homemade almond rocca. Bonnie included notes from a writing class she had attended and which she thought her brother, a pretend writer, might find interesting (I do). I wrote this email the evening of a sad, sad day: the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

    On 14 December 2012, Steve to Bonnie
    Subj: Thanks—CRUNCH—a lot–CRUNCH

    Bonnie,
    The almond rocca arrived today and I am trying in vain to save some for tomorrow. Chuck’s almond rocca is very addictive.
    It’s difficult to be upbeat after the tragic event this morning in Connecticut. I can’t process it. I can’t imagine the pain those parents must feel. I watched President Obama choke up and wipe away a tear as he addressed the nation. I’m beginning to hear heroic stories of the teachers at the school. It’s overwhelming.
    Thank you for the seminar lecture notes. I glanced through the notes and quickly decided I just have to put aside time to study James Thayer’s pointers on writing.
    Oh, the other day I was researching homonyms, homophones & other confusingly similar words for an upcoming post on my blog. On Google I found an article called Leave me alone you darn homophone! by a newspaper columnist in Sri Lanka. As I read this guy’s column I began to think, this looks familiar. It got more and more familiar. He plagiarized one of my posts, in some places word for word! And he had the nerve to put his byline on it! I condemn this “journalist” for poor taste in where he chooses to steal.
    Thanks again for the almond rocca and the valuable info from James Thayer. I am reading Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. Now there’s a writer!
    —————————————-

    On 15 December, Bonnie to Steve
    Subj: Re: Thanks—CRUNCH—a lot–CRUNCH

    Hi Steve,
    I’m glad your are enjoying the rocca. I hope you plan to email that guy in Sri Lanka. He’s got some nerve!
    —————————————-

    On 16 December 2012, Bonnie to Steve
    Subj: Fwd: Plagarism

    Hi Steve,
    I don’t know what got into me (maybe I’m just feeling emotional about the events in Connecticut) but I got mad about that guy plagiarizing you and I decided to email him. Here is the exchange between my new friend, Gaston, and I.

    [Following are Bonnie’s email exchanges with Gaston de Rosayro of The Nation newspaper, Colombo, Sri Lanka]

    On 15 December 2012, Bonnie to Gaston de Rosayro gdgasross@gmail.com
    Subj: Plagarism

    So is plagiarism okay in Sri Lanka?
    See- Steve of Upland https://sblazak.wordpress.com/
    —————————————-

    In a message dated 12/15/2012, Gaston to Bonnie:
    Subj: Re: Plagarism

    Thanks for the blog. But plagiarism? What the heck are you talking about?
    —————————————-

    On 16 December 2012, Bonnie to Gaston
    Subj: Re: Plagarism

    Posted on Steve of Upland August 19, 2012:
    Homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words trick unwary writers into hilarious bloopers, embarrassing errors, and the outright idiocy you see in print and on the Web. “……

    Later in the same blog, same date:
    And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as conscious and conscience, lightening and lightning, and of course, penal and penile.
    Steve said it was “penile-related crime” that landed him in a penal institution.”

    Your article: Sunday, 02 September 2012
    Homonyms, homophones and other confusingly similar words trick unwary writers into hilarious bloopers, embarrassing errors, and the outright idiocy you see in print. And then there are just plain confusingly similar words, such as ‘conscious’ and ‘conscience’, ‘lightening’ and ‘lightning’. And of course you have to be extra cautious about this pair – ‘penal’ and ‘penile’. As in: “The convict said it was a penile-related crime that landed him in a penal institution.”
    —————————————-

    Sent: 12/15/2012, Gaston to Bonnie
    Subj: Re: Plagiarism

    Hey thanks for pointing it out. I usually credit the source when I quote. Could be a miss on my part. But I’ll check with my original version and the published version in the paper. There are a few old fogey copy editors out there who think nothing of lopping copy off from wherever they please. They once embarrassed me by deleting JFK’s name from a quote I had definitely attributed to him. I insisted that they carry a correction over the blooper in their next issue. Thanks again for bringing the matter to my attention. Much obliged.
    Warm regards,
    Gaston
    —————————————-

    On 16 December 2012, Bonnie to Steve
    Subj: Gaston

    I forgot to add in my previous email that you cannot condemn him for poor taste for stealing from your blog. You are in the company of JFK!
    —————————————-

    On 17 December 2012, Steve to Bonnie
    Subj: Re: Gaston

    Bonnie,
    You are amazing! You tracked down and confronted the plagiarist!

    This Gaston is a real piece of work: he blames the copy editors! The copy editors must have cut out the part where he credits his source. Gaston must be real popular in the office.

    I have to give Gaston credit for creative plagiarism. He invents a back story to a humorous homonym headline I use in my post, Police Find Crack In Man’s Buttock, and lifts the Specific Ocean question from Yahoo! Answers and attributes the witty reply, can you be more pacific? , to his brother Denis “teaching English to group of foreign service cadets.” That’s what I call creative plagiarism.

    Oh, well. At least Gaston had the decency to reply to your emails. I wonder if you’ll hear from him again?

    Lizzie and I have been watching the TV coverage of the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We are in tears as we learn more about the precious children, brave principal and heroic teachers, the first responders (they saved so many lives by getting there so quickly), and the outpouring of support from the community and from around the world.

    I heard something on the radio that gave me a little comfort, and I think this would help parents in talking to their children about this horrific event. It’s a quote from Fred Rogers – remember Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

    There is far more good in the world than evil. We shouldn’t give the killer much attention. Shouldn’t even use his name. Focus instead on the helpers.

    I hope Gaston doesn’t steal Mr. Rogers’ quote, if he writes a column on the mass shooting in Connecticut, USA. “When my brother Denis and I were boys and we would see scary things in the news…” We’ll have to watch him.

    Also, since you obviously enjoy standing up for your brother, a cashier at CVS Pharmacy was rude to me today, and I was wondering if you would call the CVS store in Upland and yell at her. Or is that a job best suited for Monica?

    The almond rocca is long gone.

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