Thursday, September 23, 2010


No, homophones are not about sexuality, but they are fascinating. This homophonous shirt was recently spotted in Colson Hall. {For disambiguation see here and here}

Homophones happen when a form is attached to two separate meanings. In normal dictionaries, the meanings are listed under a single head term, but in the mind, homophones are most likely stored as separate items. In other words, the lexicon tolerates two (or more) meanings that are represented by the same form (like "bat" as 'piece of wood' and "bat" as 'flying mammal'). What the lexicon seems not to tolerate is the same meaning represented by two different forms (i.e. synonyms). So for homework, oh Tenants followers, see if you can post in the comments pairs of true synonyms. And keep an eye out for those homophones.


  1. Okay, I'll give it a try, the only non-salacious one I can think of is "alleviate" and "ease" (since the latter is itself a homophone, I mean the verb and not the noun).

  2. Oooooo, nice one. Let's see, medicine can alleviate the pain, and a teacher can ease the tension in a class.

    I would imagine that a situation is eased, but pains are alleviated.

    The OED has this for "alleviate": 2. To lighten, or render more tolerable, or endurable; to relieve, mitigate.

    For "ease" {a much older English word} the OED has several things:

    7c. " intr. To move oneself gently or gradually away, in, out, etc. Chiefly N. Amer. 1985 G. KEILLOR Lake Wobegon Days (1986) 152 It's hard to get comfortable if you're tall, you have to ease down until you balance on a particular vertebra."


    " 3 d. refl. (esp. with reference to sitting down). 1990 D. M. THOMAS Lying Together xiv. 152 He eased himself into a faded and lumpy armchair."

    This meaning is the oldest: " 1. a. trans. To give ease (physically) to; to render more comfortable, relieve from pain, etc. Also with out of and (U.S.) with up." Also to give food or rest.

    So it seems that "alleviate" came in and began to replace "ease" which slid into other territories.