Treebeard's Stumper Answer
No wonder it's so hard to learn English! Just consider these sentences:
"The bass guitar player had grilled bass for dinner."
"I dove after the wounded dove, but it flew away."
"The archer took a bow before shooting his bow."
Last year we found words that are spelled differently, but pronounced the same. But these homographs are just the opposite. They are spelled the same, but they have different pronunciations and meanings. How many more of these odd words can you find and use in a complete sentence that shows both meanings?
The challenge was to find words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meanings. The most interesting homographs are words with totally different meanings and origins. My list includes many other words with related meanings that are pronounced or accented differently in noun, verb, and adjective forms. Now the stumper is to say these sentences! Words, like people, aren't always what we expect. Our American heritage is richer for its complex origins. Puns, poetry, and delight are among the rewards.
I got pretty compulsive with this stumper, just like I did with last year's Silent Alphabet stumper. DMS student Kari got me started with an email forward that gave a dozen good sentences. I found many more before doing a Web search. In the end, I also borrowed from other lists on the Web. My contribution is to use the word pairs in original sentences. DMS students helped. The results are pretty entertaining!
One of these word pairs is also a pair of opposites (antonyms): to secret something away is to hide it from view, but to secrete something is to make it visible. So the past tense secreted is both!
In the end, I found 153 homographs (also known as heteronyms) in these 4 broad categories. I'm sure there are more.
52 - Type 1, true homographs with unrelated meanings and the same spelling. 65 - Type 2, words with related meanings that are pronounced differently as nouns, verbs, or adjectives. Sometimes the difference in pronounciation is subtle or optional. 29 - Type 3, questionable words that I couldn't resist: abbreviations, obvious foreign imports, missing diacritic marks like accents (even if it's normal), capital letters, and proper names. 7 - Type 4, questionable words with obsolete spelling or funky grammar, even if they're officially correct.
The type 3 homographs are interesting as they show new words entering the language. A mole ('mOl, rhymes with pole) is a common garden pest or that dark thing on your neck. A mole ('mO-lA, like the bullfighting cheer) is an ancient Mexican sauce that contains chilis, peanuts, and chocolate. Here in southern California, it's not really a foreign word at all, though I wish it were more available in local restaurants. Of course no one would ever confuse these words. Mole mole does not sound as appetizing as chicken mole, but there's nothing confusing about it, at least in the spoken language.
Mole is really a type 1 homograph here in the Southwest. We've just forgotten the origins of the other type 1 words. For example, consider lead, as in "The prospector will lead us to the lead mine." This is from Merriam-Webster Online:
Main Entry: 1lead
Inflected Form(s): led /'led/; lead·ing
Etymology: Middle English leden, from Old English l[AE]dan; akin to Old High German leiten to lead, Old English lIthan to go
Date: before 12th century
1 a : to guide on a way especially by going in advance b : to direct on a course or in a direction... (etc.)
Main Entry: 4lead
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Middle English leed, from Old English lEad; akin to Middle High German lOt lead
Date: before 12th century
1 : a heavy soft malleable ductile plastic but inelastic bluish white metallic element found mostly in combination and used especially in pipes, cable sheaths, batteries, solder, and shields against radioactivity... (etc.)
Clearly lead and lead are different words with different etymology. The same spelling is just coincidence. A really compulsive person could find the different word origins of all the type 1 homographs!
Richard Lederer has this to say about our Crazy English:You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm clock goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn't a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.
I'm glad I played with this stumper for a long time before I tried a Web search. This was fun! Here are a few links for more research if you want to explore:
- My Silent Alphabet (2 Apr 99) stumper is another word search through our language, and it has more language links on the Web.
- There are several serious collections of homographs on the Web. These lists are more comphrehensive than mine, but they don't use the words in sentences. I'll mine these lists for more words to make mine when I find time.
- Jon Vahsholtz' The Homograph Page;
- John Higgins' Homographs, part of his interesting Language Museum;
- The Ellis family's Heteronym Homepage;
- Mark Brader's Homograph List, part of the remarkable rec.puzzles archive; and
- Alan Cooper's more general All About Homonyms.
- Merriam-Webster OnLine (m-w.com) lets you search a real dictionary on the Web. It's great if you're always connected. It's usually easier for me to open the book, and it's more fun to browse.
It's easy to add this handy search form to your own home page with this HTML code:<FORM METHOD="post" ACTION="http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary"> <INPUT TYPE="submit" VALUE="search"> <INPUT TYPE="text" NAME="va" SIZE=40> <INPUT TYPE="hidden" NAME="book" VALUE="dictionary"> </FORM>
The OED OnLine exists, but it's very expen$ive. They do have a teaser Word of the Day page. I hope the OED soon follows the Encyclopedia Britannica and goes public. I can't read that tiny type any more.
- Richard Lederer is the author of many books on language and a newspaper column. "We drive in a parkway, park in a driveway; our nose can run, and our feet can smell". His entertaining book Crazy English (Pocket Books, 1989/1998) has a chapter on homographs, and much more. His Verbivore Page has book excerpts and recent columns and a great link page. Richard Lederer wrote the classic The World According to Student Bloopers.
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Copyright © 2000 by Marc Kummel / firstname.lastname@example.org