Homonym Havoc With Catherine Castle

The other day my husband wrote an email for us, read it to me for my okay, and then sent it into cyberspace. A bit later, I got a carbon copy of the email, and started to wail. He’d written due for the word do. This is not the first time he’s inserted the wrong word in a sentence. It seems as if he doesn’t know the difference between wait and weight, unless he’s on the scale checking the pounds. He frequently gets ad and add mixed up, too. Quite honestly, I think he ascribes to the colonial notion that however the word sounds, and however you think it should be, is how it is spelled. In case you don’t know, it wasn’t until the early 1800s, when Webster created his dictionary, that a standardization of spelling came into being. Up until that time people just picked a phonetic spelling out of the air, and if they liked it, they used it.

Can I just say here, honestly, THAT DRIVES ME NUTS!

Lots of people have trouble with spelling, especially when it comes to homonyms, and for good reason. In case you’re wondering, Homonyms are two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings.

As if it wasn’t tough enough to figure out the difference between fair and fair, loot and lute, maid and made, write and right, aloud and allowed, do, dew and due, (all homophones, which is a subset of homonyms), our nation’s spelling skills are suffering even more with the advent of texting shorthand. And don’t even get me started on the automatic word fill feature on smart phones. Really, how does a phone know where my sentence or my thought process is going? It doesn’t! By the way, that feature drives me insane. I have turned it off on my phone to avoid writing, and accidentally sending, stupid sentences filled with inane words that don’t make a lick of sense. Because your phone’s spell checker won’t catch those grammar mistakes since—guess what—the words are spelled correctly.

But I digress . . .

Specifically, the hubby had written a homophone, which is a subset of a homonym. There are three sets of homonyms that people get confused about. They are:

  • Homophones, which are words that sound alike and have different meanings. Some examples are aloud and allowed, fair and fare, loot and lute, maid and made, write and right, do, dew and due.
  • Heteronyms, which are words that have the same spelling as another word but with a different pronunciation and meaning, such as: lead (the mineral) and lead (to guide), does (the verb) and does (two doe), wound (an injury) and wound (to wrap), produce (the verb) and produce (what you get from a farm), desert (to abandon) and desert (arid region) tear (to rip) and tear (cry), minute ( 60 seconds) and minute (tiny), moped (sad) and moped (a motorcycle).
  • Homographs, which are homonyms that share the same spelling, but not the same meanings. You can park the car in the park, rock the baby while listening to rock music, watch the ocean wave wave at you, and have a row with your canoe mate as you row down the river with leaving your mate behind.

And if all that isn’t confusing enough consider this:

  • We drive on a parkway and park on a driveway.
  • We ship by truck and send cargo by ship.
  • Your house can burn up as it burns down.
  • You fill in a form by filling it out.
  • An alarm goes off by going on.
  • And a slim chance and a fat chance are the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites.

If you can keep all that straight without a dance card, I’m impressed, because just writing this blog confused the heck out of me. I’ll think I’ll desert this topic now and go get some dessert to console me while I put my feet up on the console.

Is it any wonder we have so much trouble with spelling?

What about you? Do you have a particular homonym that trips you up?

I can’t get enough of these crazy words, so I concocted a silly tale filled with these lovely English gems on my blog. If you’d like to read more, click here.

Catherine Castle Catherine Castle, author of award-winning book The Nun and the Narc

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8 Responses to Homonym Havoc With Catherine Castle

  1. NevaBrown says:

    It is amazing what we can do with those few little letters we have in the alphabet.

  2. kathybryson says:

    Great article! This is actually my favorite part about helping students proofread their papers. I love the expression on their faces when I read out loud what they actually wrote as opposed to what they meant!

  3. My five-year-old grandson is learning to read. I see the frustration in his face when he has sounded out a word – correctly – but it’s the wrong pronunciation for the meaning in the sentence.
    Nice blog

  4. Beth Carter says:

    What an informative, entertaining post! I learned a few descriptions of homonyms. Great job. I’d love to share it on my blog with your permission, crediting you, of course. Let me know.
    P.S. I hate the autocorrect on smart phones, too. Gah.

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