Monthly Archives: October 2008

All Hail the Homonym

Ah, the English language. It’s mind-boggling how many ways we confuse ourselves! Here is just one example of the absurdity of it all:

HOMOGRAPHS are words that share the same spelling, but have different pronunciations.

Dressed in a lovely gown with a bow, I bow before the Queen.

I will lead the way to see the Queen, whose crown of lead  is very heavy.

HOMOPHONES are words that share the same pronunciation, but have different spellings.

I bow before the Queen from under the bough of the tree.

Dressed in a lovely gown with a bow, I went to see the Queen with my beau.

The Queen just bought another pair of shoes, the color of a Bartlett pear; she really needs to pare down her collection!

HOMONYMS share the same spelling AND the same pronunciation:

Dressed in a lovely gown with a bow, the Queen shot her bow and arrow.

Now it can get more complicated… so reader beware!

CAPITONYMS share the same spelling but have different meanings (and usually different pronunciation) when capitalized.

The Queen was nice enough to take me with her to Nice, France.

The Queen told her maid to polish the furniture before her Polish guests arrive.

But it gets even crazier!

Homophones (words that sound the same) can also be homographs if they are spelled the same:

The Queen tires easily when she changes the tires on her carriage.

Isn’t this the definition of a homonym?

HETEROGRAPHS are homophones (same sound) that are spelled differently:

The two of us are going to the see the Queen, too.

What??? Isn’t this the definition of a homophone?

And here’s another one:

Desert is an example of a HETERONYM, a subclass of homograph:

He had to desert the Queen’s troops in the sweltering desert.

Why is this a subclass? Why isn’t it just a homograph? Why isn’t a homograph just called a heteronym? Who made up all these words?

Oh yes, heteronyms are sometimes called HETEROPHONES. I don’t know why and I can’t find an example, but I read it somewhere. I wish I could explain it, but I don’t think it’s possible. All hail the Queen!

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Point Taken!

I’m all for enthusiasm and energy ― in speech and in writing ― but I just can’t handle a writer’s overzealous use of the exclamation point.

You know what I’m talking about. The email from your friend on vacation in Hawaii who writes, “How beautiful and sunny it is here!!!” Or the teenager who proclaims in a love letter, “I LUV U SO MUCH!!!! I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU!!!”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in love and paradise vacations, but I get the point the first time; more exclamations are just overkill.

When I see something written with an abundance of exclamation points, I immediately think I’m reading a comic book. Have you ever read one? I think the first rule of writing a superhero comic book story is that every single sentence ends with at least one exclamation point. Pow! Bam!! Zap!!!

My advice: Unless you’ve been tied up and thrown into the trunk of a car, luckily able to find a scrap of paper where you desperately scribble the words, “Help! I’ve been kidnapped!!” before your captors lock you in, don’t use them.

I mean it!

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Apostrophe Catastrophe

I realize that there are more important things in the world to worry about than the misuse of the apostrophe, but still, it is aggravating. Why can’t people – highly intelligent people at that – use the apostrophe appropriately? Here are some helpful hints:

NO apostrophe is needed when the word is plural:

The boys in the band are crazy.

When showing possession for ONE boy, the apostrophe is before the “s”:

The boy’s band is crazy. (By himselfBefore)

When showing possession for many boys, the apostrophe is after the “s”:

The boys’ band is crazy. (Think of All the boys… After)

Simple, right?

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