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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
31 March 2000

Double Meaning

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.

Treebeard's Homograph List

Type   1 These true homographs are unrelated words with the same spelling.
  2 Words with related meanings that are pronounced differently as nouns, verbs, or adjectives.
  3 Questionable words that I couldn't resist. This mixed group includes abbreviations, obvious foreign imports, missing diacritic marks like accents (even if it's normal), capital letters, and proper names.
  4 Questionable words with obsolete spelling or funky grammar, even if they're officially correct.

abuse 2 He used to abuse his position as drug abuse counselor.
address 2 He will address the crowd at the old address just for tradition.
adulterate 2 We will adulterate the drug with a harmless adulterate.
agape 1 I stared agape when I heard Martin Luther King talk about agape and eros as forms of love.
alloy 2 The ancient alchemists learned to alloy different metals to make useful alloys.
alternate 2 She continues to alternate between the two alternate choices.
alum 1 As a prank, we fed alum to the old school alum.
analyses 2 After she analyses the students' data, I want her to send her analyses to me.
annex 2 The Prime Minister is in the office annex discussing how to annex the territory.
appropriate 2 It's probably not appropriate if we appropriate their results.
approximate 2 It's usually ok to approximate the location, but your answer will only be approximate.
ares 3 The ancient Greek temple of Ares covered 100 ares, about 2.5 acres.
arithmetic 2 In my arithmetic class, we learned how to find the arithmetic mean of a series of numbers.
attributes 2 He attributes the manuscript to Francis Bacon because of its special grammatical attributes.
august 3 The august citizen will take office in August.
axes 1 I have many axes to grind about how I have to label the axes of my graphs.
bases 1 The opposing bases of their arguments had to do with how far apart the bases actually were.
bass 1 The bass guitar player went bass fishing at the lake.
baton 3 She dropped the baton at the track meet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
blessed 2 Blessed are the poor for they will be blessed.
bow 1 The archer took a bow before shooting her bow.
bowed 1 He bowed before the audience, though it was painful because of his bowed back.
buffet 1 The strong wind will buffet the buffet table and ruin lunch.
bustier 3 Madonna wears an uncomfortable bustier to look bustier.
chaps 3 All the young chaps who went riding in the chaparral put on their chaps to protect their legs.
chile 3 The cook from Chile prepared a hot chile for dinner.
close 1 They had to close the road when the brush fire got too close.
coax 3 I had to coax the school to use coax cable for the network instead of cheaper twisted-pair wire.
colon 3 He was diagnosed with colon cancer while visiting Colon in Panama.
combat 2 We must combat our tendency to resort to armed combat to resolve world conflicts.
combine 2 We can fix the combine and save the harvest if we combine parts from this old equipment.
commune 2 The hippies moved to the commune in order to commune with nature.
compact 2 If we compact the message enough, we can hide it in the silver compact.
complex 2 It was a complex problem deciding who would live in the apartment complex.
compound 2 Her compound fracture would only compound her problems.
compress 2 Hold the cold compress tightly so it will compress the wound.
concert 2 He refused to concert with them to reschedule the concert.
confine 2 The judge confines their activity to the immediate camp confines.
console 1 I tried to console him after the accident, but he was only interested in his game console.
consummate 2 Neither was a consummate expert when it came time to consummate their marriage.
content 1 I wasn't content with the content of my report, but it looked great.
contest 2 I will have to contest the poor judging of the spelling contest.
contrary 2 Mary is quite contrary, but Susan, to the contrary, is easy to be around.
converse 1 We'll converse again tomorrow about the converse theory.
convert 2 As a recent convert to the new religion, he is always trying to convert others.
convict 2 The convict has new evidence that will convict the prison guard of brutality.
crooked 2 I crooked my neck to see the crooked politician being led away.
defect 2 He plans to defect from the party because of the defect in their platform.
deliberate 2 When the jury goes to deliberate the case, they will have to be very careful and deliberate.
deligate 2 As the committee chairman, I will deligate this job to the new deligate.
desert 1 The soldier decided to desert while training in the desert.
deserts 1 He missed dessert, but he finally got his just deserts in those far away deserts.
diagnoses 2 I will review their diagnoses after each student diagnoses the patient.
digest 1 It helps me digest my food to read the Reader's Digest after dinner.
dingy 4 The dingy at the lake looks pretty dingy now, but it will look better when I clean it up.
divers 4 The scuba divers used divers equipment.
do 1 I do try to sing in key, but my do re mi is always off pitch.
does 1 The buck deer does a surprising dance when the does are present.
dove 1 I dove after the wounded dove, but it flew away.
drawer 1 The student drawer put her finished work in the top drawer.
duplicate 2 Please duplicate your report and put the duplicate on my desk before morning.
elaborate 2 You can elaborate this plan all you want, but I still think it's too elaborate to work.
ellipses 1 The geometer left several ellipses in his paper on drawing ellipses.
entrance 1 The movie star's entrance was designed to entrance the audience.
envelop 2 He dropped the envelop when the poisonous cloud started to envelop him.
estimate 2 I can estimate the answer if I use this estimate for the weight of the wagon.
evening 1 We argued all evening about evening out our differences.
excuse 2 Excuse me for a minute so I can think of a good excuse for not doing anything yet.
exploit 2 We can exploit his fame by mentioning his brave exploit in the ghetto.
extract 2 We'll extract the essential oils to make a strong extract.
fillet 1 You can fillet your fish for lunch after you finish the fillet on the airplane wing.
fine 3 The pianist looked fine when she played the fine of the last movement.
grave 3 The name by the grave had an accent grave, so the deceased was probably French.
he 3 He always mispronounced the Hebrew letter he.
herb 3 My friend Herb was looking for a particular medicinal herb on our hike.
house 2 Some kids can stay in the house, but we'll have to house the rest in tents.
import 1 How we import the furs is a matter of some import given the new laws.
incense 1 It will incense me to action if you burn any more of that cheap incense.
insult 2 Don't insult me with these juvenile insults.
intern 2 The guards will intern the nurse and the intern with the other criminals.
intimate 2 How can I intimate my disapproval to my most intimate friend?
invalid 2 The invalid found that he had an invalid insurance policy that didn't cover the accident.
invite 2 I got an invite to the party, and I get to invite two more friends.
job 3 His job was to translate the book of Job.
lame 3 The lame duck senator looked ridiculous in the gold lame jacket.
lead 1 The prospector will lead us to the lead mine.
learned 2 The learned scholar learned only simple tasks after his stroke.
lied 1 We knew he lied about his voice when he started to sing the beautiful Schubert lied.
lima 3 The man from Lima, Peru had lima beans for dinner.
live 2 I live for the TV show Saturday Night Live.
liver 4 He felt liver after the operation in which he received his liver transplant.
lives 2 She'll never finish her book about the lives of artists as long as she lives.
lunged 1 The unusual lunged salamander lunged at the bait.
lupine 2 Lupine flowers are named for wolves because of their alleged lupine way of robbing the soil.
mare 1 She called her horse "Luna" because the mare's coloring looked like the mare on the moon.
mate 3 She drank mate with the man who would become her future mate.
micrometer 2 The micrometer caliper can measure a gap of a single micrometer.
minute 2 It was hard to see the minute hand on the minute watch because it was so small.
moderate 2 We picked him to moderate the discussion because of his moderate views.
mole 3 The mole in the garden ruined the chilis I was growing to make mole sauce.
moped 3 I moped around after my moped was stolen.
number 4 The pain felt number after a number of injections.
nun 3 The nun from the convent always mispronounced the Hebrew letter nun.
object 1 I do not object to the object of the inquiry, only the method.
palsy 1 He was acting all palsy with me, but he was coming down with palsy.
pate 3 As a joke, we spread liver pate on the sleeping man's bald pate.
peaked 1 He felt peaked after climbing to the top of the peaked roof.
peers 4 We will arrest those unlawful public peers and try them before their peers.
perfect 2 She is working to perfect her act, though it's not perfect yet.
polish 3 I have to polish all the Polish furniture.
prayer 4 The suppliant prayer said a devout prayer for world peace.
present 1 Dinner will be a good time to formally present her birthday present.
primer 1 The painter spilled some primer on the child's reading primer.
produce 2 My organic farm will produce more fresh produce than any other farm in the county.
progress 2 We're making progress, and we'll continue to progress towards our goal.
project 2 We tried to project how our project will look in the future.
protest 2 I protest -- this continuing protest is disrupting our business too much.
psyche 3 Psyche was a Greek princess loved by Cupid, which surely effected her psyche.
pussy 1 The pussy cat has a pussy sore that will soon need antibiotics.
putting 1 He was still putting on his golf shoes while the rest of us were putting on the practice green.
ragged 1 He was so negative he even ragged on the ragged furniture in my room.
ranier 3 It's much rainier on Mount Ranier than it is in Seattle.
read 2 I'll read the story again today if I have to, but I already read it last night.
real 3 Camino Real is a real street in Santa Barbara.
rebel 2 The rebel soldiers plan to openly rebel tomorrow.
record 2 I pushed the record button and started work on my new record.
refuse 1 The Santa Barbara dump is so full it will soon have to refuse any more refuse.
repent 1 The landscape gardener must repent his decision to plant that repent vine along the highway.
resume 3 I will resume work on my resume for the new job as soon as they leave.
rose 3 We drank rose wine with a single red rose between us on the table.
row 1 There was a row among the sailors about how to row.
sake 3 For his sake, we gave him some sake to drink after the accident.
secreted 1 He secreted away the rare substance secreted by the toads.
separate 2 Your task is to separate the mixture into separate ingredients.
sewer 4 The young sewer in the textile mill had to work too close to the sewer vent.
shower 2 The shower of the champion horse took a shower when she was done.
slaver 1 The cruel slaver will probably slaver when he sees these new slaves.
slough 1 The snake will slough off his old skin by the slough at the river mouth.
sow 1 The farmer will sow corn to feed his prize sow.
subject 2 We had to subject the new subject to a psychological test.
supply 1 Sticks that can bend this supply are in short supply right now.
suspect 2 I suspect he knows by now that he is the main suspect.
tangier 3 The food is much tangier in Tangier.
tarry 1 Don't tarry as you walk across the tarry part of the beach or you'll get tar on your sandals.
tear 1 I shed a tear when I saw the tear in my new shirt.
tears 1 I shed tears when I saw the tears in my new shirt.
thou 3 "Thou shalt not steal" -- but he stole the 10 thou as soon as he got the chance.
tinged 1 The old bell was tinged with rust, but it tinged very sweetly.
toots 3 Toots and the Maytalls are great Reggae band, but he toots his own horn too much.
tush 1 Tush, it hurts now after your fall, but your tush will feel better tomorrow.
US 3 Steve Wozniak held the US Festival somewhere in the US during the 70s.
used 2 I used to buy a new car every year, but this used truck looks good.
wind 1 The wind was blowing too strong for us to wind up all the kite string.
wound 1 The bandage hurt because it was wound too tight around the wound.


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
Pronunciation: 'lEd
Function: verb
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
transitive senses
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
Pronunciation: 'led
Function: noun
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:

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