Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words

Since I’ve been doing this feature on my blog, I’ve really started to notice homonyms, homophones–even antonyms and synonyms, in everyday conversations and on the radio (I listen all day and into the evening to my local public radio stations, KPCC Pasadena and KVCR San Bernardino, and talk radio KFI Los Angeles ).

It’s amazing what you discover when you listen carefully to a person’s choice of words. What is it they’re really trying to say? Especially when someone is speaking spontaneously and not from a prepared statement.

When moving quickly, sometimes the mind will slip on a word. Reminds me that I should explore malapropisms in my next post.

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

compleat kuhm-pleet (adjective)  Highly skilled and accomplished in all aspects; complete
complete kuhm-pleet (adjective)  Having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole

exercise ek-ser-sahyz (verb)  To use; to exert oneself physically or mentally
exorcise ek-sawr-sahyz (verb) To expel, as an evil spirit

gouache goo-ahsh; Fr. gwash (noun)  A technique of painting with opaque watercolors prepared with gum
gauche gohsh (adjective)  Lacking social grace or sensitivity; awkward; crude

liter lee-ter (noun)  A unit of volume equal to 1000 cubic centimeters or 1 cubic decimeter (1.0567 quarts)
leader lee-der (noun)  A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group

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

Two interesting antonyms

Regulation vs. Dysregulation
(noun) a law, rule, or other order prescribed by authority, esp. to regulate conduct
dysregulation (medical) impairment of a physiological regulatory mechanism
People with Borderline Personality Disorder often experience emotional dysregulation.

OK, dysregulation is a stretch, you don’t hear it very often. Actually, you never hear it outside of medical school. I heard the word “dysregulation” for the first time last week at a NAMI meeting (check out my blog postings for more on the National Alliance on Mental Illness) when dysregulation was mentioned in a talk about borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD, a form of mental illness, explains why there are so many really annoying people among us. BPD is biologically based, so those people can’t help being assholes, and you have to grit your teeth and forgive them for they know not what they do.

Utopia vs. Dystopia
(noun) any visionary system of political or social perfection
dystopia (noun) a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding
I don’t know if California has ever been a utopia, maybe before any Europeans showed up, but it sure is headed towards a dystopia, thanks to our dysfunctional “leaders” in Sacramento.

Other interesting “U” words
I like browsing through the u’s in my dictionary. First, it doesn’t take long because there are relatively few words beginning with “U,” nothing like the A’s, M’s, S’s, and T’s, but more to offer than the Q’s, X’s, and Z’s. And second, a lot of intriguing words start with “U.”

In a recent visit, I stumbled on “ultra” and its variations…
ultra going beyond others or beyond true limits; from the Latin “ultra,” beyond.
ultraconservative extremely conservative
ultrahigh frequency a radio frequency between 300 and 3000 megahertz
ultralightultralight a very light recreational aircraft capable of carrying only one person
ultramarine a very bright deep blue color
ultramodern extremely or excessively modern in idea, style or tendency
ultramontane 1: of or relating to countries or peoples beyond the mountains 2: favoring greater or absolute supremacy of papal over national or diocesan authority in the Roman Catholic Church ( I actually had reason to look up “ultramontane” last month as I was reading a book about the Spanish Inquisition).
ultrapure of the utmost purity
ultrashort having a wavelength below 10 meters; short duration
ultrasonic having a frequency too high to be heard by the human ear
ultraviolet having a wavelength shorter than those of visible light and longer than those of X rays
ultra vires beyond the scope of legal power of authority

Then there’s all the words that “un” unravels the base word behind it, my favorites being “unlikely” and “unbelievable.”  Check it out, and let me know your ultrafavorite “un”-prefixed word. “Unforgettable” anyone?


Ultra Underpants, Unbelievable!