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.