Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mea Culpa and Homonyms

by Marsha Ward

In my last post, I hooted and howled and poked fun at a hapless writer who misused a term that we used to call homonyms*, e.g.: pre-Madonna vs. prima donna. I'll admit that the situation gave me way too much delight and enjoyment at the expense of another human being, and I apologize.

* I think they've morphed into homophones now. English is confusing.

However, my fascination with the foibles of the English language and the misuses I've found thereof, leads me to continue my little adventure into exploring English. I've found an interesting website about homonyms from a man named Alan Cooper here, and his list here, and if you really want to blow your mind, an exhaustive explanation of the whole linguistic family of homonyms (he has many brothers and sisters!) here. There's even a pretty, if inexplicable, graphic.

When you access Alan's first page, be sure to keep scrolling down for new wonders, including a great poem at the end that you might recognize as something you've come across before. This one has the author's name appended.

Now I have to bring up the latest misuse I've come across: stent/stint.

According to my Webster's New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition, stent is a noun, meaning a surgical device used to hold tissue in place, as inside a blood vessel to keep the vessel open. It was named after the British dentist C.R. Stent, about whom I know nothing.

Stint
comes from the Old English word styntan, meaning to blunt. It may be used as a transitive (vt.) or intransitive (vi.) verb, or a noun. vt.:to restrict to a certain quantity, often small; vi.: to be sparing in giving or using; n.: 1. restriction, limit; 2. an assigned task or period of work.

Try not to confuse the two words. See me winking? I love you all.

And now, enjoy our new look!

5 comments:

  1. This is fascinating, and just one more reason why I love our biddable, loose-jointed language. Perhaps a subset of the homophone that also depends on sound is the two- word verb. For example, I read in a book yesterday about someone deciding whether to "give into" pressure when they really meant "give in to." The difference is subtle and maybe it doesn't matter to editors anymore, but I notice it. To "move on to" is not the same as "to move onto."

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  2. yeah that whole maybe/may be thing gets to me.

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  3. Funny that, since a doctor just had a recent stint giving me a stent.

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