Friday - - Mind Games -

A word that is pro­nounced the same as an­other word but dif­fers in mean­ing and/or spell­ing is a ho­mo­phone. They abound in the English lan­guage: phase and faze, maid and made and straight and strait – it’s an in­ex­haustible list.

I al­ways thought the grand cham­pion among ho­mo­phones is air, which has five other words pro­nounced like­wise: are (as in a unit of land mea­sure­ment), e’er (po­etic con­trac­tion of ‘ever’), ere, err, and heir. Lit­er­ary hero­ine Jane Eyre would make six, but a proper noun is ob­vi­ously un­al­low­able.

There is a group of true ‘sep­tu­plets’: raise, rays, rase, raze, rehs, réis, res (rase is a verb mean­ing ‘to erase’, rehs is the plu­ral of reh, a mix­ture of sodium salts found as an ef­flo­res­cence in In­dia, réis is the plu­ral of real, a cur­rency unit of Por­tu­gal and Brazil, res is the plu­ral of re, the sec­ond note of the do-remi mu­si­cal scale).

In recre­ational lin­guis­tics (a fancy term for word play) an oronym (also called a con­ti­n­unym or a slice-onym) is a pair of phrases that are ho­mo­phonic. When pro­nounced with­out a pause be­tween words, phrases dif­fer­ing in mean­ing and spell­ing may share a sim­i­lar pro­nun­ci­a­tion. An ex­am­ple is ‘ice cream’ and ‘I scream’, but more hi­lar­i­ous ex­am­ples ex­ist. For in­stance, here’s a def­i­ni­tion of ‘wash­able’: “what a cow­boy does very, very care­fully” (wash a bull). In his short story col­lec­tion Un­cle Dy­na­mite, PG Wode­house cre­ates one:

Lord Ick­en­ham: (of his wife) “She is tak­ing a trip in the West Indies”. Bill: “Ja­maica?” Lord I: “No, she went of her own free will”.

Fi­nally, a les­son con­structed as a poem by some­one who calls him­self Homer Simp­son, on the pit­falls of us­ing the wrong word sim­ply be­cause it sounds right, and so es­capes your spellcheck: Eye have a spell­ing che­quer, It came with my Pea Sea. It plane lee marks four my re­vue Miss Steaks I can knot sea. Eye strike the quays and type a whirred And weight four it two say Weather eye am write oar wrong It tells me straight a weigh. Eye ran this poem threw it, Your shore real glad two no. Its vary pol­ished in its weigh. My che­quer tolled me sew.

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