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
wrap
  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.
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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.

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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 an example from an Ohio newspaper, where the headline to a story about a woman who was injured at a county fair has a homonym that gallops off in an unintended direction: Woman kicked by horse upgraded to stable.

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

ale malted beverage darker and more bitter than beer
ail to trouble or afflict; to feel unwell, as from drinking too much ale

air atmosphere
ere before (poetic)
err be incorrect or mistaken
heir one who inherits

all ready completely prepared
already
previously

band musical group
band something that constricts or binds
banned prohibited

cannon artillery piece
canon regulation; rule; dogma
canyon deep ravine

foul offensive
fowl bird, especially domestic cock or hen

Cartoon by Kent Lamberson artofkent.com

right entitlement; privilege
rite ceremony
wright workman, as in millwright or playwright
write what I despair of ever doing to my satisfaction

toad tailless, leaping amphibian
toed having toes
towed past tense of tow

vain conceited
vane device showing wind direction
vein narrow channel; lode; blood vessel
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Woman kicked by horse upgraded to stable

Helicopter powered by human flies

Local high school dropouts cut in half

People mean to say one thing, and end up saying something completely different, sometimes bizarre, so upside down and inside out it’s right out of Alice in Wonderland…

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 7)

I recently came across a little gem of a book in the Upland library that covers another way people trip over language: the many silly redundancies in all too common use, such as ATM machinerepeat again, scheduled appointmentadvance warning, forcible rapepersonal friend, or hot water heater (think about it).

The books title displays three such tautologies: Armed Gunmen, True Facts, and Other Ridiculous Nonsense.

Here’s a sample of author Richard Kallan’s “compiled compendium” of “repetitive redundancies,” including his witty send up of bloated absurdities in popular use:

Deliberate Lie
More forthright than the inadvertent lie

Honest Truth
When all other truths fail

Innocent Bystander
A bystander inexperienced in the ways of the world

Raining Outside
Less surprising than when it rains inside

Mutual Cooperation
Team version of solo cooperation

New Innovation
Preferable to an old innovation

Sudden Impulse
Impulse that doesn’t embrace a strategic plan

Future Expectations
Expectations unachieved in advance

Free Gift
Finally: a gift for which you’re not charged

There are hundreds of commonly used tautologies listed in Armed Gunmen, True Facts, and Other Ridiculous Nonsense. I’m guilty of using many of them, though now I catch myself—this book has me thinking about unnecessary words in my writing.

Kallan dispenses much more helpful writing advice than that of the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse I quote above, and he does it with wicked wit and biting humor.

Kallan says, tongue in cheek, that the goal of his unique and one-of-a-kind book is “to alert readers to our propensity for tautology—to present a compiled compendium of repetitive redundancies so that readers can see with their own two eyes how to remove and eliminate such excessive verbiage from their communicative language.”

This illustrated book is lots and lots of amusing fun. Ever since I completely finished reading it, I’ve got into the regular habit of carefully scrutinizing each and every written document I take pen and ink to, and I myself eliminate out every single one of the absurdly ridiculous repetitive redundancies I may perhaps find and locate.

I’d love to know your favorite homographs, homophones and confusingly similar words, as well as any humorous malapropisms and tautologies (repetitive redundancies) you’d like to share.

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

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.

And then there’s confusingly similar words, such as emigrant (one who leaves one’s country) and immigrant (one who comes to a country) and flamenco (the dance) and flamingo (the big, funny-looking pink bird). Confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms are made of: I can’t wait to dance the flamingo in the competition!

Here are some (homonym: sum) of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

ad advertisement
add to increase; append

advert to pay heed or attention to
avert to turn away
overt open to view; manifest

blew past tense of blow
blue color

dual twofold
duel combat between two persons

filter a porous device for removing impurities
philter a magic potion or charm
The rotund receptionist was supposedly an impenetrable filter, trapping salesmen like me in the lobby as others came and went, but I had a powerful philter with me: a gift certificate to Chick-fil-A.

idle not occupied; unemployed
idol symbol of worship; false god
idyll narrative poem; romantic interlude

lade to load
laid past tense of lay (he laid down)
layed no such word!

misogamy hatred of marriage
misogyny hatred of women
The opposite of a misogynist is a philogynist, a lover of women. Someone who hates men is a  misandrist, and the opposite of that is a philandrist. A misanthrope hates’em all, both sexes.

“I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand,” says Linus in Charles Shulz’s classic comic strip Peanuts.  That about sums up my attitude, too.

spiritual pertaining to the spirit or soul
spirituel having a refined and graceful mind or wit
Grace thought watching the antics of the masked wrestlers in Lucha Libre was an almost  spiritual experience–odd for someone of such sophistication, someone with such a spirituel bent.

stanch to restrain the flow (as of blood)
staunch firm in attitude, opinion or loyalty

tern type of sea gull
turn rotation

tort wrongful act
torte kind of rich, round layer cake

The rotund receptionist’s lawyer filed a tort against the baker for irresponsibly displaying an irresistible triple-chocolate torte in his shop window, sabotaging her diet and endangering her health.

way thoroughfare
weigh to ascertain the heaviness of
whey thin part of milk
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From dictionary.com…
Word of the Day for Sunday, January 23, 2011

homograph \HOM-uh-graf\, noun:

A word of the same written form as another but of different meaning, whether pronounced the same way or not.

She would pronounce the English word with a real fear, and found its close French homograph absurd, stupidly naval and military.
— Lilane Giraudon, Guy Bennett, Fur

It may help to remember the definition of the word homograph by looking at its parts.
— American Book Company, Kate McElvaney, Teresa Valentine, Maria Struder, Kent Carlisle -, Tackling the TAKS 8 in Reading

Homograph conbines the Greek roots homos, “same,” and graphos, “drawn or written.”
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See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words that I’ve posted to date.

I’d love to know your favorite homographs, homophones and confusingly similar words, as well as any humorous malapropisms you’d like to share.

Flamingo dances the flamenco. With a warthog? Check out the judges!

I’ve decided I want to blog more. Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now.  I will be posting on this blog  once a week for all of 2011. If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way. –Steve

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.

And then there’s confusingly similar words, such as penal and penile and florescent and fluorescent, both of which I discuss in earlier posts. Confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms are made of: Having one wife is called monotony

Here are some (homonym: sum) of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

abjure to renounce
adjure to command, as under oath
”This rough magic I do here abjure,” says Prospero in Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, but I adjure all playwrights to keep the magic coming.

amend to set right
emend to correct
Both amend and emend mean to improve by correcting or freeing from error.
Use amend when you’re talking about correcting in detail: The writers of the Constitution included a way to amend the document. Use emend when referring to critically editing a text for publication, cleaning it up: On her Word Press blog Terribly Write, Laura gleefully emends the sloppy writing on Yahoo! News—a target-rich environment—and each time she pounces, her readers appreciate the importance of clear, clean communication.

assure to give confidence to
ensure to make certain; to insure
insure to give, take or procure insurance on; to take necessary measures

baited nagged or teased; set a trap
bated restrained, reduced
The big perch exploded out of the water and  leaped over our boat… shocked, I dropped my smoke, and with bated breath and shaky hands I somehow baited my hook.

bus large motor vehicle that carries passengers
buss a kiss

cell basic structural unit of all organisms
sell to persuade someone to buy something

delusion false belief or opinion
disillusion disenchantment
dissolution act or process of dissolving

gest notable deed or exploit; pronounced JEST
jest to joke
They thought Don Quixote’s gest just one big jest.
Gest shares the same roots as jest, the Latin gerrere, “to carry on.” I wonder if that’s behind our expression, “Oh, come on!” when someone tells us an obviously tall tale.

feat notable act or achievement (hey! could be a gest!)
feet plural of foot

moue a pouting grimace; pronounced MOO
moo deep vocal sound of a cow
Bessie made a little moue of discontent, flicked her tail angrily, then gave a loud, long, indignant  moo when Farmer Brown placed his ice-cold hands on her udders.

shear to cut, as hair or wool
sheer to deviate from a course; swerve

tough strong and durable
tuft a bunch or cluster of fluffy thingies, like feathers, hair or threads

wait delay
weight heaviness

weal well-being, prosperity or happiness
weal raised mark on the surface of the body produced by a blow
wheel a circular frame or disk arranged to revolve on an axis

I’d love to know your favorite homographs, homophones and confusingly similar words. Please post to Comments, otherwise I feel like a voice crying in the digital wilderness.

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


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 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.

Written homonyms are easy to spot: as you read, your eye scans a sentence and quickly understands the context in which a homonym is used. The eye may not be fooled, but the ear can easily stumble over spoken homonyms, resulting in a thoroughly confused listener: Juan won one two-to-one, too.

If you find yourself noticing homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words, please leave a comment with your favorites.

Here are a few of my favorite homonyms and confusingly similar words:

beach shore
beech a type of tree

doe female deer
dough flour mixed with water, milk, etc. for baking into bread; slang for money

floe large mass of floating ice
flow uninterrupted movement

knight Sir Lancelot is one
night the darkness between sunset and sunrise
(Just saw an ad for a new movie called Knight & Day)

pedal (noun) foot lever; (verb) to ride a bicycle
peddle to sell or offer to sell from place to place
petal portion of a flower

penal pertaining to punishment
penile relating to or affecting the penis

From Yahoo! Answers

Is it called the penile system?

i really feel like another name for the punishment/penitentiary system is called “penile system” but i wasn’t sure so i looked it up in the dictionary and it only mentioned the male body…. which i knew, of course, but there wasn’t a secondary definition or anything.

is that what it’s called??

Best Answer – Chosen by Voters

I’m laughing so hard I wet myself!! It’s penal system.

profit gain
prophet one who predicts the future

weather state of atmosphere as to heat, cold, and so forth
whether if it be the case that

A few examples of homographs:

bass low in pitch, a bass guitar
bass the fish

dove the bird
dove plunge, submerge, descend; he dove into the deep end of the pool.

sow to scatter seed; implant, introduce or promulgate
sow adult female swine
Homophones for sow were mentioned at the start of this post: sew and so
(“sew and so,” I guess, is a homophone for the noun so-and-so, an unnamed or unspecified person, thing or action).

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

“Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” is a grammatically valid sentence in the English language, used as an example of how homonyms and homophones can be used to create complicated linguistic constructs. Check it out