(J. Anand, Bangalore)

First, let's begin with the pronunciation of the two words. The ‘o' in the first syllable is like the ‘o' in ‘hot', ‘got', and ‘pot', while the ‘o' in the second is like the ‘a' in ‘china'. The words are pronounced ‘HO-me-fone' and ‘Ho-me-nim'; in both cases, the stress is on the first syllable. Though there is a difference in meaning between the two words, people tend to use them interchangeably. ‘Homophone' comes from the Greek ‘homo' meaning ‘same' and ‘phone' meaning ‘sound'. Careful users of the language use the term to refer to words which sound alike, but have a different spelling and meaning.

Examples of homophones are: bear, bare; fair, fare; and where, were. A homonym, on the other hand, is used to refer to words which have the same spelling and pronunciation, but have a different meaning. For example, ‘ball' (dance), ‘ball' (something to play with), ruler (scale), ruler (king), and rock (music), rock (stone). This subtle distinction is seldom maintained in everyday conversation; of the two, ‘homonym' seems to be the preferred term.

S. UPENDRAN upendrankye@gmail.com