In a homonymously manner, I would like to subject you to an interesting e-mail that I received a few months ago that had, as a subject, “For Word Smiths.“ After reading the e-mail, I immediately saved it and decided that in the future, I would do a post on it. Well, the future is now! :-)
Even if you aren’t a wordsmith, there’s a good possibility that you have an appreciation for how difficult the English language can be. There are over 6000 languages in the world plus over 7000 dialects. English, though it’s only one of them, is very challenging to master for many of us.
Ok, I know English is not considered to be as difficult to learn as Vietnamese and Japanese, but it can be quite confusing because of pronunciation irregularities and irregular verbs. In English, many words are spelled the same, but sound differently depending on the meaning. (see the numbered examples below) This makes the English language hard to understand, even for people whose native tongue is an English-related language.
Some of the problems with learning and using English come from the use of homonyms, homographs, etc. For example, consider how we can use the word “left.” Left can be used as a direction or side (the opposite of right) or left can be used as the amount that remains (past tense of leave). Of course we have a similar use of the word “right.” Right can be used as a direction or side (the opposite of left) or right can be used as ‘correct’ (i.e. correct in judgement).
Homonym, homograph, heteronym, and capitonym are some classifications of groups of words that help make the English language interesting, complex and confusing. Please click on the “hyper-texted” names of each in the previous sentence to learn more about them.
I must admit that before writing this post, I was not familiar with most of them. Having stated that, I do not, nor did not, have any problem correctly reading the nineteen numbered sentences below. Maybe the language isn’t as hard as I thought! :-)
1) The bandage was wound around the wound. (homographs, heteronyms)
2) The farm was used to produce produce . (homonyms)
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse. (heteronyms)
4) We must polish the Polish furniture. (Capitonyms)
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out. (heteronyms)
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert. (heterographs & heteronyms)
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. (homonyms & homographs)
8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum. (heteronyms)
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes. (heteronyms)
10) I did not object to the object. (homonyms)
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid. (heteronyms)
12) They were too close to the door to close it. (homonyms)
13) The buck does funny things when the does are present. (homographs, heteronyms)
14) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line. (homographs, heteronyms)
15) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow. (homographs, heteronyms)
16) The wind was too strong to wind the sail. (homographs, heteronyms)
17) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear. (homographs, heteronyms)
18) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests. (homographs)
Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.
If we explore English language paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And, why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices?
Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the “verbally insane.” In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? 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 goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
Why do wordsmiths love and hate English? I don’t know and I have no idea! Oops, that’s an example of homophones that are also heterographs. Discussing those two would make this post too long. Oops, I did it again! :-)
And, I end with another pair of homophones that are also heterographs: “It would be appropriate and right for you to write a comment.” :-)
PS. – Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’?