Raw Material for Puns
February 20, 2010 3:59 PM   Subscribe

When Alan Cooper was in the second grade, his teacher introduced him to "homonyms," those words, like "caret" and "carrot" that are pronounced the same, but are spelled differently, and that have different meanings. The concept intrigued him, and over the years he has maintained an ever-growing list. Alan Cooper's Homonyms.

Another list: The Homonym/Homophone Page
posted by netbros (54 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice resource! It would be nice to see someone turn this into a homophone checker ...

Although I am a bit skeptical about Alan's list once I saw it listed "ax" and "acts" as homophones. Uh?
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 4:06 PM on February 20, 2010


"Ax" and "acts" only sound different in your mouth. They sound the same in your ear.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:07 PM on February 20, 2010


I definitely pronounce ax and acts the same.
posted by empath at 4:07 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ax and acts sound the same to me, mouth and ear. How do you pronounce them?
posted by found missing at 4:08 PM on February 20, 2010


Seems like homophone checkers exits already. Sweet ...
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 4:08 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I pronounce the 't', not super strongly, but strongly enough. Maybe because I am a non-native English speaker (but fluent, I promise).
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 4:10 PM on February 20, 2010


I'd say the Google dictionary pronunciation agrees with me. Not a very authoritative source, but ...

Regardless, homophones are an easy trap to fall into when writing, so it is nice to see such lists out there.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 4:13 PM on February 20, 2010


Marry, Mary, merry, amirite?
posted by fixedgear at 4:15 PM on February 20, 2010


I just submitted "hawk" and "hock".
posted by davey_darling at 4:16 PM on February 20, 2010


Hmm, should have scrolled to the bottom of the page:

Last updated: 2/15/1997

:(
posted by davey_darling at 4:18 PM on February 20, 2010


No homo? So homo.
posted by orthogonality at 4:21 PM on February 20, 2010


Marry, Mary, merry, amirite?

This brings flashbacks of a rather annoying conversation I had with a friend from Ohio who insisted I (a West-Coaster) was incorrect in pronouncing "fairy" and "ferry" as homophones; he claimed the latter was pronounced like "furry."

I now hate his accent.
posted by kittyprecious at 4:22 PM on February 20, 2010


Marry, Mary, merry, amirite?

Or as a sentence: Marry merry Mary.
posted by Camofrog at 4:25 PM on February 20, 2010


Oh man, I totally just read that as Alice Cooper.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:29 PM on February 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I pronounce the 't', not super strongly, but strongly enough. Maybe because I am a non-native English speaker (but fluent, I promise).

I'm a native English speaker and also pronounce the t. Also, "hawk" and "hock" sound completely different to me - 'aw' versus 'ah' in the middle.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:31 PM on February 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure about the Ax vs Acts thing, but what drives me nuts is when people pronounce "Ask" as "Ax" - Let me ax you a question....
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:34 PM on February 20, 2010


blaneyphoto, That one is on par with those who pronounce nuclear as nook-u-lar.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:37 PM on February 20, 2010


ex-cetera
posted by found missing at 4:39 PM on February 20, 2010


Ax and acts are totally different to me, for the reasons mentioned above -- ax has no t. Hawk and hock -- also different.

Also on his list the I pronounce in different ways, just glancing over -- cents and sense, complement and compliment, defused and diffused, foreword and forward, presence and presents ...

Darn it, e is not i, o is not a, and [consonant]-s is not the same as [consonant]-ts in my language!

At least he has a footnote about ant and aunt.
posted by kyrademon at 4:42 PM on February 20, 2010


Ax and acts are totally different to me, for the reasons mentioned above -- ax has no t.

Just so I understand, if you heard a native speaker saying these two words, without any context, you would perceive them as totally different from each other?
posted by found missing at 4:48 PM on February 20, 2010


"D" and "T" sounds are not alike ("metal" is not the same as "medal" (although they are the same as "mettle" and "meddle", respectively).

they sho nuff are the same in amurrican english, like this: they all sound like "medl". that's our peculiar use of the alveolar tap, which other people apparently put to more strenuous use, like for trills. fancypants showoffs.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:01 PM on February 20, 2010


Found missing --

If they pronounce them as I do -- and I am a native speaker -- then yes.

I am fully willing to admit that there are native speakers who pronounce them as homonyms.

Being, in general, more on the side of descriptivist linguistics rather than prescriptivist ones, I cannot say that those people are wrong.

However, everything in my upbringing tells me that they are wrong and bad and I should foam at the mouth and twitch. It is difficult to overcome. (Prescriptivist English professor as one parent and pedant as the other.)

I do believe that the linguistic pendulum tends to swing back and forth between generality of language and specificity of language. We seem to me to be in a long swing towards generality right now, with finer shades of meaning and pronunciation being elided into broader categories.

There's nothing wrong with that. But since I was basically raised to speak and construct sentences as if I were living in the 19th century, it gives me a vague and unfair feeling of Wrongness about modern language and pronunciation.

Stupid parents.
posted by kyrademon at 5:02 PM on February 20, 2010


Interesting. I tried it and sprained my tongue.
posted by found missing at 5:08 PM on February 20, 2010


Hommina hommina hommina.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:09 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


As illustrated several times above (and, I predict, below as well), whether a set of words function as homonyms depends heavily upon the dialect of the speaker/listener. I didn't discover until after college, when seeing friends off to their Peace Corps gig, that many American English speakers don't consider "pin" and "pen" to be homonyms. If someone insists that they are not, and carefully speaks them in a distinguishing manner, I may be able to discern a difference. If I then try to repeat the distinguishable variations, they insist that I'm pronouncing "pen" and "pin" the same way.

I imagine it's as frustrating as when our high school Spanish teacher discovered that he could not pronounce a soft "g" -- the whole class tried to get him to say "singer" with a soft "g", and every time he tried, it was with a hard "g". He could roll "R"s -- and about half the class couldn't do that -- but he couldn't pronounce a soft "g". He couldn't even tell that he couldn't pronounce the soft "g". ("Singer", says the class. "SinGer" says he. "No, singer, with a soft 'g'", says the class. "SinGer", says he, "didn't I just say that?")
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 5:31 PM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Although I am a bit skeptical about Alan's list once I saw it listed "ax" and "acts" as homophones. Uh?

Whether they are or not may be regional. I remember being astonished some years ago when my partner--from North Dakota--informed me that "witch" and "which" are pronounced differently. Not where I come from!
posted by not that girl at 5:39 PM on February 20, 2010


Cool, homophones expanded to include mondegreens (a parent, apparent).
YADM (Yet another duh (why didn't I think of that!) moment) for me.
posted by vapidave at 5:56 PM on February 20, 2010


Pin/pen was drilled into us when we were kids, but more as a way to keep us from sounding (too) Southern - where pin and pen are pronounced the same, but they almost have two syllables something like "pee-un". We were right at the Kentucky border.

Similarly arrow/aero, berry/bury/barry, rose/rows, witch/which, through/threw, warrantee/warranty, and terne/turn all come out of my mouth with slight differences.
posted by Tchad at 6:13 PM on February 20, 2010


That one is on par with those who pronounce nuclear as nook-u-lar.

I heard a physicist remark that the people who worked on the Manhattan Project said nook-u-lar.

Also, the preferred way to pronounce "forte" (as in personal strength) is "fort," not "for-TAY," but if you say "fort" people tend to look at you funny. The list got it right.
posted by Camofrog at 6:28 PM on February 20, 2010


Also, the preferred way to pronounce "forte" (as in personal strength) is "fort," not "for-TAY," but if you say "fort" people tend to look at you funny. The list got it right.

Uh, really? Am I supposed to say fack-ade instead of fa-sawd too?
posted by sunshinesky at 7:12 PM on February 20, 2010


When Alan Cooper was in the second grade, his teacher introduced him to "homonyms," those words, like "caret" and "carrot" that are pronounced the same, but are spelled differently, and that have different meanings. The concept intrigued him, and over the years he has maintained an ever-growing list. Alan Cooper's Homonyms.

You may now drink your weak lemon drink.
posted by Artw at 7:21 PM on February 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's my ax scent, but caret and carrot sound similar, not the same.
posted by crataegus at 7:24 PM on February 20, 2010


kyrademon: "Also on his list the I pronounce in different ways, just glancing over -- cents and sense, complement and compliment, defused and diffused, foreword and forward, presence and presents ..."

My accent (as a non-native but fluent speaker) agrees with you in general, but, how do you pronounce defused and diffused in different ways? Try as I might, I can't actually come up with a way to do that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:39 PM on February 20, 2010


I avoid the word forte with a couple of friends because they are always correcting everyone who uses forté to mean personal strength. On a good day, they will tease you - "oh that isn't your loudness, huh?" On a bad day they will give you a lecture about etymology.

I just say that I am better at this than that to avoid the whole thing.

Around folks like my friends, it is appreciated, but 90% of everyone else is left trying to figure out what you are alluding to by talking about your fort. Or their forts. "None of us have any damn forts, why is he saying that?"
posted by Tchad at 7:43 PM on February 20, 2010


Although I am a bit skeptical about Alan's list once I saw it listed "ax" and "acts" as homophones. Uh?

Fascinating.

How would those be confused in actual use?

"A play in three axes."

"And my act!"

There's also the issue of familiarity with the dialect. Someone who speaks the same as I do (essentially US Broadcast Standard, with a couple regional quirks) is not going to confuse me with those two words. I can hear the slight difference there. (Whereas, as was mentioned above, there are loads of people in the US who pronounce "ax" and "ask" identically. (Although, oddly, not "acts".))
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:24 PM on February 20, 2010


Joakim Zeigler -

As I pronounce them, defused has a long "e" on the first syllable (as in "teen"), while diffused has a short "e" (as in "tin".) Since the difference is on the unaccented syllable, it's a little subtle. Part of the generalization of English is a tendency to turn all unaccented syllables into a schwa, essentially making both words "dah-FUSED".

But as I say them, one is

dee-FUSED

and one is

dif-FUSED
posted by kyrademon at 8:44 PM on February 20, 2010


Arg! I meant a short "i" in diffused, not a short "e". Sorry for any confusion.
posted by kyrademon at 8:45 PM on February 20, 2010


I had a pretty heated argument with a friend whether 'maw' and 'ma' were homonyms.

The way my dad says them, they are, at least!
posted by rubah at 9:11 PM on February 20, 2010


When I moved to Massachusetts, I learned to keep my car keys in my khakis.
posted by yhbc at 9:19 PM on February 20, 2010


kyrademon: "But as I say them, one is

dee-FUSED

and one is

dif-FUSED
"

Thanks. Actually, thinking about it after I posted, I figured that might be it. You're right, it's probably quite a subtle difference, but noticable.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:57 PM on February 20, 2010


Ax and ask are the same depending on the dialect.

Everyone from where I'm from says nukular. Like nukes.

I assure you that some people where I'm from are, in fact, intelligent, despite their "mis" pronunciation of the word. The sniggering disdain about the different pronunciation really comes off as Eastern seaboard snottiness.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:35 AM on February 21, 2010


Wait, scratch my last comment completely, what have I been smoking?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:40 AM on February 21, 2010


...what have I been smoking?

Marijuana, perhaps. Probably a joint. Not to be confused with adjoint.
posted by spoobnooble at 5:14 AM on February 21, 2010


> Uh, really? Am I supposed to say fack-ade instead of fa-sawd too?

If you're under the impression that "fort" is correct and "fort-ay" is not, you're wrong. Check any dictionary. Helpful hint in case you're going to (foolishly) go the etymological route: forte is from French fort, in which the -t is not pronounced.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Uh, really? Am I supposed to say fack-ade instead of fa-sawd too?
I was first going to write that I think it is actually fa-sahde. Then I remembered that most Americans now pronounce saw like sah. To me sawd signifies a word like sword (dropping the R but maintaining that vowel sound.) I had no idea until recently that hawt was a play on hot since to me they logically sound different.

That brings me to the point that his accent is General American or variant thereof as he himself says. Aero and arrow are homonyms to him and probably to most Americans. I tawk like a Noo Yawkuh. Those two words are very different to me.

Thus you can drive yourself nuts agreeing or disagreeing with his list. It will only be correct if you speak the same variant of English as he dos.
posted by xetere at 6:39 AM on February 21, 2010


My husband trained himself out of his Southern accent but he does slip up on the pen/pin which come out sounding the same and does occasionally lead to confusion: "I can't find a pin."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:51 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


He also just reminded me that "bale" and "bell" sound the same when he pronounces them, whereas I make a distinction.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:54 AM on February 21, 2010


If you're under the impression that "fort" is correct and "fort-ay" is not, you're wrong. Check any dictionary.

I did, and according to my M-W's Collegiate 11th, "fort" is listed first, "for-tay" second.
posted by Camofrog at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2010


That's probably because it was originally pronounced fort. OED has ('forti, 'forteɪ, formerly fort)
posted by Frankieist at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2010


If you're under the impression that "fort" is correct and "fort-ay" is not, you're wrong.

I thought this had more to do with the confusion between two borrowings: of Italian forte (two syllables), the musical term for loud, and French forte (one syllable), the reference to one's strengths.
posted by kittyprecious at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2010


But "caret" is pronounced "Care-Eh" to rhyme with "beret."

right?

right?
posted by 256 at 3:15 PM on February 21, 2010


> I did, and according to my M-W's Collegiate 11th, "fort" is listed first, "for-tay" second.

Which means that they're both considered correct, and (in the judgment of the pronunciation editor of M-W when that edition was compiled) "fort" was considered more common. I personally doubt that is the case, but if it is, it's certainly (like the laborious avoidance of "split infinitives") due to the nattering nabobs of prescriptivism dinning it into people's heads that some perfectly normal usage is "wrong."

> I thought this had more to do with the confusion between two borrowings

No, the Italian borrowing is irrelevant here except insofar as it may have influenced people's pronunciation of the other word.
posted by languagehat at 4:35 PM on February 21, 2010


english spelling needs to be fixed.

In Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s", and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Generally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeiniing voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c", "y" and "x"— bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez —tu riplais "ch", "sh", and "th" rispektivili.

Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

(mark twain)
posted by empath at 4:37 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are words that sound the same.... (nsfw)
posted by nanojath at 7:48 PM on February 21, 2010


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