Monday, April 30, 2018

Homographs, homonyms, heteronyms, and polysemes

   No, these are not new preference designations for recreational sex.  We perhaps have enough of those already (seven, last time I counted: LGBTQIP).

   Homographs are dozens of words with the same spelling but more than one meaning.  If these different meanings are pronounced the same, they’re homonyms, many of which can be either a noun or a verb, such as down, effect, tie, exploit, file, implant, insult, sink, sign, and kiss.

   Homographs that are pronounced differently according to meaning are Heteronyms, such as invalid, lead, minute, pervert, progress, rebel, record, and subject.  This can lead to some interesting sentences:

The doctor wound a bandage around the wound.
Sometimes the dump will refuse more refuse.
A soldier decided to desert in the desert, but only after he’d had his dessert.
The dove dove to avoid the hawk.
We don’t object to the object.
He painted a bass on his bass drum.
It was like trying to wind string in the wind.
There was no time like the present to present his present to her.

   Polysemes are cousins to homographs of both the above homonym and heteronym varieties.  They’re words that started out meaning some activity but later began also meaning the people engaged in the activity, or products of the activity, or that became verbs concerning the activity.  Traditional examples are: ministry, nurse, service, court, delegation, and police.  Some techy recent additions to this family are Facebook, Google, and hack, which began life as ordinary nouns but grew up to become verbs as well.

  All of this makes me exceedingly happy I’m not an adult laboring to learn English.


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