Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more     nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass 

Humpty-and-alice (1)

The purpose of language is to convey meanings.

We depend on words to carry a thought from our head and deliver it to someone else’s head.

But sometimes words fail: they don’t communicate the meaning we had in mind.

When words fail, either we misused a word or a word misused us.

Mr. Dumpty misuses words; the words he chooses to express his thoughts only confuse Alice.

I don’t know what you mean by “glory,” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.  ‘Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’       from Chapter 6, Through the Looking-Glass

On the other hand, the English language is as idiosyncratic and illogical as Humpty Dumpty. Many words in our quirky language delight in deceiving us, delivering an entirely different meaning than the one we intended.  These trickster words are called homonyms.

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

So a word can look like duck, sound like duck, but not mean a web-footed swimming bird but something you do to dodge a blow or avoid an unpleasant task.

Mischievous homonyms can pull the pants down of the unwary writer, as seen in these newspaper headlines:
Prostitutes Appeal To Pope
Chicago Checking on Elderly in Heat
‘Bare Children in Mind’ Plea to Drivers [Sign seen on restaurant door: No Bear Feet Allowed]
Here’s How You Can Lick Doberman’s Leg Sores

Homonyms come in two flavors:

Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but differ in meaning, such as ceiling and sealing, hours and ours, way and weigh.

Homographs share the same spelling, and sometimes the same sound, but have different meanings. Examples are close (to be near) and close (to shut), incense (a burnt aromatic) and incense (to make angry), and refuse (to deny) and refuse (garbage).

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as biannual and biennial, immanent and imminent, insolate and insulate.
I straighten out these tangled words for you in the list below.

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

allowed  permitted
aloud  in a spoken voice; not silently
Steve protested that reading aloud is not allowed in the library

altar  raised platform for worship or sacrifice
alter  to change

biannual  twice a year
biennial  once every two years
Steve’s curio shop, Bizarre Bazaar, has a biannual clearance sale and a biennial going-out-of-business sale

bole  stem or trunk of a tree
bowl  deep, round dish or basin
bowl  participate in a game of bowling

eminent  high in station or rank; prominent; distinguished
immanent  
internal or inherent
imminent  likely to occur at any moment

faces  have a difficult event or situation in prospect: the defendant faces a maximum sentence of ten years
feces  waste matter eliminated from the bowels; excrement
Following the dog feces fracas, Steve faces eviction

gull  to deceive or trick
gull  seabird
Steve tried to gull the gull with a plastic minnow

insolate  exposure to the sun’s rays
insulate  using various materials to prevent the leakage of heat
Insolate to get warm and insulate to stay warm

quail  lose heart or courage in difficulty or danger
quail  bird
quail TimBentz

shoe-in  common misspelling of word below
shoo-in  a candidate, competitor, etc., regarded as certain to win

soar  to fly aloft or about; to rise to heights
sore  painful

straight  having no bends, turns, or twists
strait  narrow channel connecting two bodies of water

wine  fermented grape juice
whine  to cry in distress, or in a high-pitched, complaining manner
Wine, wine, wine the night; whine, whine, whine the morning
wine flu

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

I have two bird words in my selection of favorite homonyms, homophones & confusingly similar words: gull and quail.

I’m working on a list of words for animals that are homophones, such as horse and hoarseGull and quail don’t count because they’re homographs — they have the same spelling as the words I pair them with. I just brought up gull and quail because they’re animal words and remind me of this Nelsonlist I’m working on, a list of animal homophones (same sound, different spelling). It’s a very interesting list and I’m having fun putting it together and …

Oh, you’re laughing at me. I know what you’re thinking: Dude, what a life you’re having!

Hey, what are you working on, a cure for cancer?

Anyway, here’s my work-in-progress list of animal homophones:
bear/bare
boar/bore
deer/dear
doe/dough
ewe/you
flee/flea  (you’re right: an insect, not an animal. So sue me)
fowl/foul
gnu/new
gorilla/guerilla
herd/heard
hare/hair
horse/hoarse
leech/leach  (leeches are worms, worms are animals, not insects)
lion/lyin’  (OK, I’m cheating a little bit here)
minks/minx  (a minx is a flirtatious girl; minks have beautiful fur)
owl/awl
tern/turn
whale/wail

Do any animal homophones occur to you? I’d appreciate suggestions, just use the comment box. Oh, the rule is, you can’t do a Google search. Has to come straight out of your own little head. Builds brain muscles that way, so you won’t get Al’s hemorrhoids when you’re old.

LittleHorse2

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Flip Side of a Word: Antonyms

Antonyms are words opposite in meaning, such as up & down, lost  & found, hot & cold, young & old.

I usually write about homonyms, words that share the same sound and sometimes the same spelling but have different meanings, like tail & tale, pail & pale.

Homonyms are mischievous, ready to pull the pants down of the unwary writer.  As in this newspaper headline: Woman Kicked By Horse Upgraded To Stable.

Antonyms are not as fun as those prankster homonyms. But antonyms are astonishingly useful.

Synonyms – words with similar meanings – are the more popular writer’s tool, but for my money the underrated antonym is just as handy, and much more interesting.

Antonyms help us understand the full meaning of words

Just knowing the definition doesn’t always mean you comprehend a word well enough to use it regularly and accurately.

An antonym can unlock the full meaning of a word. Know the flip side of a word and you’ll know when and how to use that word.

If I’m unfamiliar with a word and the dictionary has its antonym – a word I do know — that really nails down the new word’s meaning.

When I know the word backwards and forwards (I couldn’t resist throwing in those antonyms!), I’m much more likely to use this word when the opportunity comes up.

Two unfamiliar words I recently came across are dehort and exfiltrate.

My dictionary gave me the definitions, but it was the words’ antonyms – words I’m familiar with, exhort and infiltrate — that completed my understanding.

exfiltrate  withdraw surreptitiously
Steve spotted one of his creditors and exfiltrated the trade show
infiltrate  enter surreptitiously and gradually
The guard dozed off, allowing the sniper to infiltrate the compound

dehort  warn people not to do something; dissuasion
Thou shalt not steal from Steve’s blog – it shows poor taste
exhort 
  encourage people to do something; persuasion
Do onto others as you would have others do unto you

Antonyms help improve our vocabulary

Who knows how many words are in the English language? One million? Two million?

Of all those many words, antonyms stand out. Antonyms are easily recognizable because they fit a tight pattern – they’re opposites.

The human brain is wired to seek patterns. That’s why we see constellations in the random stars scattered across the night sky – Leo the Lion, Orion the Hunter, the Big Dipper. We remember things by association, by recognizing patterns.

It’s easier to remember words when their pattern, their relationship, sticks in our memory. With antonyms it’s easy to remember the relationship: opposites.

We all have common antonyms stuck together in our minds – back and forth, head over heels, right from wrong are a few examples.

The stickiness of antonyms works for me when I want to add a new word to my vocabulary. After I look up the definition, I find the word’s antonym. I remember my new word and its antonym as a pair.

Recent additions to my vocabulary: nadir & zenith, prone & supine, dorsal & ventral.

Antonyms spark creativity

Creativity is about taking old concepts, imagining connections, and coming up with something new.

You can’t be creative with lazy thinking. You have to shake things up, drop preconceptions, and turn things on their head to generate new insights, breakthroughs and innovations.

By looking at opposites, you can see things from a completely different angle.

Maybe it was an antonym that inspired Christopher Columbus to launch his voyage of discovery: People say the world is flat, but what if it were round? I wonder what’s over the horizon?

Antonyms are the antidote to lazy thinking.

“Night and Day” is a brainstorming exercise that uses antonyms. The purpose of the game is to improve upon a group’s ability to find multiple solutions to a problem and how to come up with them quickly. To begin, the group is to make a list of common terms. They then come up with the first antonym of each that they can think of. Next, they are to think of an additional three for each. Now that the group has practiced finding more than one solution, they can put this in place to tackle whatever problem is being worked on.
From Brainstorming Activities for Adults by Tyrone Scales

Want to be wealthy? First step on your road to riches is to study how to go broke, and then do the opposite. Odd, isn’t it, that negative thinking brings positive results.

If you’re hard pressed to think of ways to go broke, email me and I’ll tell you how I’ve handled my finances. It’s a road map to bankruptcy.

Use antonyms for powerful and pithy statements

The jarring contrast between two antonyms appearing in the same sentence telegraphs a concept, story, idea in stark black & white (two antonyms!).

Antonyms are storytellers: love & hate, acceptance & denial, courage & cowardice. The interplay of opposites sets up conflict, movement, direction, action, suspense.

With antonyms, in few words, you can express worlds about your subject.

I was lost but now I’m found / Was blind but now I see

Jesus said, “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last”

”Get busy living, or get busy dying,” advises author Steven King

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor

Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Less is more

The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven (John Milton)

Many complain about not getting enough love;
but few about how little they’ve been giving (Dr. Mardy Grothe)

I could go on and on, but it’s time for the Antonym Awards!

The award for Most Antonyms Appearing in a Single Sentence goes to …  the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Not every word has an antonym

Adjective words have the most antonyms. Second place goes to verbs. Most nouns refer to a specific thing — such as dolphin, bottle, France — so do not have antonyms.

Just as synonyms don’t have exactly the same meaning – each word has its own connotation, antonyms are not always exact opposites. A word that comes close to having the opposite meaning of another word is a near antonym.

“For example,” says the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “afraid is not so exactly opposite to courageous as cowardly is, but afraid and courageous certainly have markedly contrasting meanings and so are considered near antonyms.”

But we’re splitting hairs. As I’ve shown, antonyms are astonishingly useful – even half-ass antonyms.

antonym/synonym

Ironically, the word antonym is itself an antonym of the word synonym, and synonym (words with similar meanings) is the antonym of antonym (words with opposite meanings).

Finally, I dehort you: Never underestimate the power of the antonym to improve your vocabulary, writing, and creativity.

And I exhort you: Always look at the flip side of a word!

Click to see my favorite antonyms

Click to see famous books with antonyms in their titles
Yes, War and Peace is one of them

Click to see my all posts on Homonyms, Homophones & Confusingly Similar Words

I love homonyms, like antonyms, but I’m lukewarm about synonyms.
Here’s my rant on synonyms and the folly of using a thesaurus:
Cinnamon Finder. Wait … I Mean, Synonym Finder

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.

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 sewhere 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 totootwo.

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.

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as my favorites penal and penile, which I discussed in an earlier post. Confusingly similar words are the stuff that malapropisms are made of: He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.

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

beek  to bask or warm in the sunshine or before a fire.
beak  the bill of a bird

century a period of 100 years
sentry guard

gait  manner of walking
gate  opening in a wall or fence

golf  you know, game with balls and clubs; “a good walk spoiled,” according to Mark Twain
gulf  a portion of an ocean or sea partly enclosed by land; wide separation

miner  one who works in a mine
minor  one who has not attained majority

morning  before noon, the a.m., where’s my coffee?
mourning  the act of sorrowing
Is it “Mourning Becomes Electra” or “Morning Becomes Electra”?

premier  first in rank; chief; leading
premiere  to present publicly for the first time
So you would say, “The Grilled Cheese Truck is the premier gourmet food truck in Los Angeles,” not  “the premiere gourmet food truck.”

pail  bucket
pale  deficient in color

retch  to try to vomit
wretch  miserable and unhappy person; a vile person
Whenever I peer into a mirror, I see a wretch and retch

tare  the weight of a container that is deducted from the gross weight to obtain net weight
tear  to pull apart or in pieces by force
I know, tear, as in to pull apart, should really be spelled tare; let’s leave tear to “a drop of the saline, watery fluid continually secreted by the lacrimal glands between the surface of the eye.”

But that’s English for you. It’s enough to make you shed a tear and tare your hair out.

FUN WITH HOMONYMS

I love the way Spell Check blithely and shamelessly mishandles homonyms, homophones and other confusingly similar words.

I’ve seen the following Ode to Spell Check all over the web but have never figured out who originally wrote it.

Eye have a spelling chequer, it came with my pea sea. It plainly marques four my revue Miss Steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word and weight four it two say Weather eye am wrong oar write, it shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid, it nose bee fore two long And eye can put the error rite Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it I am shore your pleased two no Its letter perfect awl the weigh My chequer tolled me sew.

I’d love to know your favorite homographs, homophones and confusingly similar words. Please comment below.

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