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Wise Words

An occasional series in which, in the spirit of Professor Thrupiece, we explore the rich and ever-changing etymology of the English language and give a practical example of common usage to hammer the point home to those a little "slow on the uptake" [Can we say this? [ed] Shouldn't we use words like "spectrum" or some such?]

#66 homonyms and homophones

In linguistics, homonyms, broadly defined, are words which are either homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of pronunciation) or homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of spelling), or both. For example, according to this definition, the words row (propel with oars), row (argument) and row (a linear arrangement) are homonyms, as are the words see (vision) and sea (body of water).

A more restrictive or technical definition would insist that homonyms are words that are simultaneously homographs and homophones – that is to say they have identical spelling and pronunciation, whilst maintaining different meanings. Examples are the homonymic stalk (part of a plant) and stalk (follow/harass a person) and the similarly homonymic left (the past tense of leave) and left (the opposite of right).

A distinction is sometimes made between true homonyms, which are unrelated in origin, such as skate (to glide gracefully on ice) and skate (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as mouth (of a river) and mouth (of an animal).

The relationship between a set of homonyms is called homonymy, and the associated adjective is homonymous.


Practical Example: Countryside [extract by kind permission of the publishers Sydling St Nicholas Newspapers Ltd]

23rd June 2015

Sturminster Marshall

by Our Local Crime Correspondent Petti Thefte

Police Arrest Woman After "Difficult" Husband Found Dead

Doubts arose over the true character of former garage pump attendant and local "do-gooder" Mrs Irene Dogooder [67] yesterday after police stormed the cottage in Sturminster Marshall which she shared with husband Chegwyn Dogooder [71]. Last night a spokesperson for the RDC [Non-Urgent Not CONTRIK-69 Related Crimes Division] confirmed that a 67-year-old woman had been detained overnight at Sturminster Newton Police Station and that she had been questioned in the presence of her solicitor. The spokesperson added that Mrs Dogooder was co-operating fully and helping them to reconstruct the last hours of Mr Dogooder's life. He was last seen leaving the Busted Flush Public House in Sturminster Marshall at about 11.30pm on 22nd June.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Mr Dogooder, who is no stranger to local magistrates and has twice served time in Clifton Maybank High-Security Jail for armed robbery, GBH and speaking in tongues was a violent man who did not "take well to drink". Acquaintances said he was "a bit of a bastard" when sober and "an absolute "c**t" when drunk.

Police said they were treating his death as a clear case of c**tricide.

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