After striking a short board with nails in it on my drive home from the store Sunday, I was struck by the realization that it’s been a little too long since I last talked about words, which could mean the revocation of my word-nerd credentials. Without those, I could lose my leadership position in the Universal Church of the Wordnerdian. I worked hard and prayed to Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster every day to get where I am! I shall not abdicate!
I was also struck by the expense of having to replace two tires … thanks, unknown person, for leaving that wood in the road. And if it was intentional, may your nipples bleed like you just ran a marathon and forgot to apply friction cream first. I hear salt and lemon juice can do wonders for open wounds.
I’ve talked about homophones before—words that have the same sound as other words but have different spellings and/or meanings—like to, too, and two—but I haven’t really touched on homographs. Which is weird for me because they’re all around. No, not the homograph phishing attacks (and don’t ask me more because I’m not a techno-nerd; the first I heard of them was Monday), but the words.
Homographs, another member of the homonym family, are words that are spelled the same (hence the “homo” for same, and “graph” for writing) but have different meanings and often different origins. Sometimes they’ll also have the same sound, like bear (as in to carry or withstand) and bear (big scary omnivorous mammal), making them homophones as well.
Or they may have different sounds, like tear (as in to rip) and tear (as in that salty wet stuff that comes out of your eyes when you’re watching the third-season finale of Stranger Things; damn it, Netflix!), which makes them heteronyms (not the literary concept). And no, we’re not going to go further into the tear/tare and tear/tier thing—that’s pure homophone, and not the topic of today’s word-nerdiness.
Tire, as in what was replaced Monday on Izzy (yes, my vehicle has a name, and it comes from one of my two remaining great-aunts), and tire, as in to grow weary, are another pair of homographs, and they just happen to also be homophones.
Homographs that are heteronyms have the tendency to make editors cry, as ones like lead (the heavy metal) tend to get confused with the homophone “led.” When you’re talking about the past tense of the verb “lead,” it’s going to be “led,” not “lead.” It’s not like “read,” which is spelled the same in present and past tense, though pronounced differently. Now hand that editor a hanky and be careful she doesn’t backhand you. Those aren’t tears of sadness, bub.
Other homographs include accent, which can mean emphasis or regional pronunciation; and bat, which could mean the club (also a homograph) used in baseball, a flying mammal that uses echolocation to navigate, or what a cat does with things that happen to be on the same surface as it is, which is just not allowed. There’s also bass, which could be the fish I grew up eating, or a deep tone or sound. Now if you see a bat with a baseball bat or a bass playing bass guitar, please take a picture and send it to me. I live for this stuff.
Yes, I’m a weirdo. It’s not like this is a new thing.
When I was on the clerks’ desk, and then the copy desk, I loved to hear from one reporter, Ken Heard, more than any other because of his love for puns, good and bad. He called me Brennie Poo, and I called him Kennie Poo, and he could always make me smile. Ken is no longer with our paper (he’s working for the Jonesboro Sun, which coincidentally my favorite poli sci professor used to call the Pun), but I always think of him when I hear a pun or similar wordplay.
So Ken, if you’re reading, this little homograph story is for you:
The day they met, the wind caused him to wind up tripping over his own feet. In the emergency room, she wound gauze around the wound on his hand. He was a most patient patient. As they grew close, they found they couldn’t close the door on love, and they set the date for their first date.
She heard bells ring as he pulled a ring from his pocket after several months of courting. He decided there was no time like the present to present the present to her. She couldn’t object to the shiny object, but she did quail at the idea of serving quail at the wedding. She was an animal-welfare advocate, and couldn’t advocate killing the birds unless it was for survival. She thought it was better to preserve the birds in a preserve so everyone could enjoy their calls.
She turned her back and walked back from the water’s edge to her car. He watched her wave goodbye over her shoulder as the wave overtook him. Funny … he didn’t remember putting on concrete shoes that morning.
Sorry … my short fiction has always had the tendency to get a little dark. Blame my mom, Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King for that. Or thank them.
Whatever works for you.
While I’m fluent in only one language (unless snark is a language), I always admire those fluent in more than one. But I truly pity anyone learning English as a second language because of all the eccentricities involved with it. Add homophones and homographs to the equation, especially ones native speakers can’t get correct on a regular basis, and unintentional (and sometimes intentional) hilarity is bound to ensue.
All this reminds me of joke involving homophones that typically makes word nerds giggle and others roll their eyes and/or groan.
“What do you say to comfort a grammar snob?”
“Their, there, they’re.”
OK, I can hear the groans from here.
You knew I was a word nerd. What were you expecting?