Know Your English | Words which sound the same may not mean the same

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What is the difference between ‘homophone’ and ‘homonym’?

(J Nitya, Bengaluru)

The first syllable in both words rhymes with ‘bomb’ and ‘mom’, while the ‘o’ in the second syllable sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The stress in both words is on the first syllable – HOM-e-phone, HOM-e-nim. This is one way of pronouncing the two words. ‘Homophone’ comes from the Greek ‘homo’ meaning same or similar, and ‘phone’ meaning sound. A homophone, therefore, is a word that sounds like another word, but the two are spelt differently, and have very different meanings. Weather/whether, due/dew and right/write are examples of homophones. The ‘nym’ in homonym, comes from the Greek ‘onoma’ meaning ‘name’. The term is used to refer to words which have the same spelling and pronunciation, but have a different meaning. Here are a few examples of homonyms: right (opposite of left), right (correct); mean (average), mean (not nice); and bark (tree), bark (dog). In everyday conversation, however, people do not always maintain this subtle distinction between the two words. They tend to use them interchangeably.

What is the origin of the word ‘honeymoon’?

(GV Ganeshan, Chennai)

‘Honeymoon’ consists of two words – honey and moon – and it has been part of the English language for several hundred years. Nowadays, whenever we hear the word ‘honeymoon’, places like Switzerland, Maldives, Paris, etc. come to mind. The word is mostly used now to refer to the holiday that a newly married couple go on immediately after the wedding. This holiday could be within or outside the country. This meaning of the word, however, came into existence only in the late 18th century. For several hundred years before that, ‘honeymoon’ was used to refer to the first month after marriage; it had nothing to do with the newly married couple having a good time in another town, city or country. In the old days, when a man got married, he received a bottle of mead – an alcoholic drink made from honey - as part of his dowry. Both the groom and the bride were expected to drink a glassful every day for the first thirty days. The honey gave them a taste of how ‘sweet’ marriage could be – at least during the initial stages – and the ‘moon’ was an indication of how the affection between the couple would wax and wane during the course of their marriage. Nowadays, the word has taken on an additional meaning; it is being used to refer to the early stages of any relationship – not just between a husband and wife - where both parties are exceedingly happy with each other. This is often referred to as the ‘honeymoon period’.

The honeymoon period between the coach and captain lasted a month.

What is the correct pronunciation of the word ‘stove’?

(R Mythili, Hyderabad)

Many people in our country make the word rhyme with ‘love’, ‘dove’ (the bird) and ‘glove’. Neither the Americans nor the British, however, pronounce the word in this manner. Native speakers of English pronounce the first vowel like the ‘o’ in ‘post’, ‘host’ and ‘ghost’.

“The honeymoon is over when he phones he’ll be late again for dinner, and she has already left a note that it’s in the refrigerator.” -Evan Esar

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 3:22:01 AM |

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