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Homonym Information

    The definitions given here are based on those found in many standard modern dictionaries, but in practice there is a great deal of confusion about the precise meaning of these words, and a variety of other interpretations may be encountered.

    A HOMONYM is a word that has the same pronunciation or spelling (or both) as another word, but a different meaning. Homonyms can be subdivided into:

  • Homophones – words that are pronounced the same (and may or may not be spelt the same), but differ in meaning, such as waste and waist.

  • Homographs – words that are spelt the same (and may or may not be pronounced the same), but differ in meaning, such as desert (abandon) and desert (arid region).

    Homonyms that are spelt and pronounced the same – such as mean (intend) and mean (miserly) – are both homophones and homographs.

    Some sources state that homonym meanings must be unrelated (rather than just different), or that the words must have a different origin. Thus read (present tense) and read (past tense) would not be homonyms.

    Heteronyms (also sometimes called heterophones) are words that are spelt the same but have different pronunciations and meanings (in other words, they are homographs which differ in pronunciation). For example, the homographs desert (abandon) and desert (arid region) are heteronyms, but mean (intend) and mean (miserly) are not.

    In derivation, homonym means "same name", homophone means "same sound", homograph means "same writing", heteronym (somewhat confusingly) means "different name", and heterophone means "different sound".


     William S. Huff devised a graphic representation for the differences between sight, sound and meaning. A solid bar is used to mean "same" and a broken bar is used to mean "different". Bars are arranged in vertical groups of three with the top indicating "sight", the middle indicating "sound", and the bottom for "meaning".

    This gives you 8 permutations in which the groupings mimic the familiar symbols found in the I Ching (Book of Changes).


 

They Have The Same ...

 
Name Spelling Pronunciation Meaning Examples
    Identity
Sight —————————
Sound —————————
Sense —————————
X X X
  • Two words with the same sight, sound and sense are identical. No word is a better synonym than itself.

shirt / shirt

    Homophonic
        Variant
Sight ———   ———
Sound —————————
Sense —————————
----- X X
  • Words that only differ in spelling.

  • Regional or American/British differences aren't considered interesting (colour, honour, civilise, etc.)

ax / axe
gray / grey
draft / draught
drier / dryer
hiccup / hiccough
whisky / whiskey

aline / align
donjon /dungeon
goal / jail
gunwale / gunnel
lagune / lagoon
queue / cue
quire / choir
phrensy / frenzy
    Polyphone
Sight —————————
Sound ———   ———
Sense —————————
X ----- X
  • Rarest of all eight categories implying two correct pronunciations for the exact same word.

  • Regional and dialectical differences are discounted (either, neither, potato, tomato, etc.) because no one person would use both pronunciations in ordinary speech.

  • The one word that is recognized in all dictionaries as having different pronunciations under specific conditions:

the
 

    Homographic
       
Homonym
Sight —————————
Sound —————————
Sense ———   ———
X X -----
  • Words that differ only in meaning.

  • Must have different derivations [ex: alternate meanings of drop (lozenge, fall) come from the same root so aren't interesting]

bear, fair, hide, rear, burn

  • Not so well known ones: hail, dam, last, swallow, jay, livery, periwinkle, temporal, mental, lox

    Synonym or
    Heterophonic
        Variant
Sight ———   ———
Sound ———   ———
Sense —————————
----- ----- X
  • Do any two words have precisely the same meaning, or does each have its own special shading? True synonyms (if they do exist) fall into this category.

  • Uninteresting words are ones that have variant spellings (scarfs/scarves, leafs/leaves, catsup/ketchup)

hog / pig
car / automobile
 

    Homophonic
       
Homonym
Sight ———   ———
Sound —————————
Sense ———   ———
----- X -----
  • Different spelling and meaning, but same pronunciation.

  • Basis for many puns.

Common:
brows / browse
nit / knit
yoke / yolk

Not so common:
awful / offal
cereal / serial
colonel / kernel
mind / mined
nice / gneiss

oriole / aureole
slew / slough
soared / sword
swayed / suede
marshal / martial
    Heterophonic
      
Homonym
Sight —————————
Sound ———   ———
Sense ———   ———
X ----- -----
  • Rarest and most curious homonym. English may be only Western language in which this anomaly occurs—a particular combination of letters gets two different sounds and meanings.

  • Proper nouns, obsolete, dialectical, Scottish, foreign, hyphenated and common-root words are disallowed

lead, coop, mow, shower, wound,
denier, severer, lower, rugged, tarry
 

    Heterologue
Sight ———   ———
Sound ———   ———
Sense ———   ———
----- ----- -----
  • words that are wholly unlike one another

elephant / rose

  • Main info from From "The Next Book of Omni Games" (Plume) pgs 67-70
  • Also from Wikipedia
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