46 Comments

  1. It’s not just you. I agree. That’s a homophone, not a homonym. However, the descriptivists, a force for grammatical entropy, will tell you they are synonyms because so many people no longer care/know enough to make the distinction in their use. On the plus side, it will spark activity.

  2. No, I don’t think “plays” and “place” are synonyms. I don’t even think those are homonyms/homophones, as they are pronounced differently in my region. It could be considered a pun, but there’s no real joke there. When I was young, in school homonyms included words spelled differently (there/their). I don’t recall the use of homophone until much later in life.

  3. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, homonyms comprise both homophones (words that sound alike) and homographs (words which are spelled alike).

  4. I agree with Brian, I don’t pronounce these the same.

    Not only does the standard definition of homonyms include homophones, but the first known usage of “homonym,” in 1697, used it to mean “homophone.” Those darn “descriptivists” – always letting little things like how people have used a word in the three centuries since it was first coined get in the way of a perfectly good arbitrary rule!

  5. Hmm, I don’t see a timestamp on the post. But it looks like well over 15 minutes until Brian’s 5:41 comment that they aren’t even pronounced the same. So Bill, I think you did not win the over/under on that!

  6. Mitch, setting the over/under isn’t placing a bet, it’s more akin to setting odds.

    So I guess anybody who bet “more than 16 minutes from 4:31 EDT” would have won.

  7. “Who pronounces “place” and “plays” the same?”

    Er, I guess I do. I just said out loud to myself “this theatre is a place where they produce plays” and as far as my internal ear can tell, I pronounce them exactly the same way.

    (If it matters,I’m a Minnesota guy of Norwegian ancestory.)

  8. @Shrug, would you try this: Rest a couple fingers gently on your larynx . Now say those words aloud. Or first, say “sssssss” and say “zzzzzzz” so you feel the difference, then try “plays” and “place” again.

  9. Am I the only one who looks at the comments here about whether the character’s line contains a proper homophone or homonym, or whether the words actually sound the same in any particular dialect/accent,
    and realizes that the JOKE is about Dysfunctional Homonyms.
    The meta-joke is this discussion.

    If he were at the fish market and said “This must be the plaice.” it wouldn’t be a dysfunctional homonym, would it?

  10. If someone said “This must be the plaice” it would be a fishdunctional homonym.

  11. nebulousrikau: *hand*
    I was surprised to read that they’re homonyms for some people.

  12. The point is that the guy’s ‘disorder’ is making him pronounce ‘plays’ and ‘place’ identically.
    He’s not a due moss, he’s just got a problem.

  13. I’m with Bryan: “Place” and “plays” are not true homophones/homonyms; but the man is mispronouncing “place” as “plays.” That’s why he’s going to a specialist trained to deal with such dysfunction.

    (This joke took me a while to get, even after reading some of the comments here. The joke is a cute idea, but the execution risks confusing a lot of readers.)

  14. In defense of Shrug, one of my brothers in incapable of telling the difference between “bear” and “beer,” and insists they’re pronounced exactly the same.

  15. There are plenty of regional accents and dialects that don’t distinguish between the vowels in pin and pen. Vowel sounds are usually where people have problems with foreign languages (there are exceptions, of course, like the Welsh ll). For example, even Germans with very good spoken English sometimes have problems with distinguishing between bed and bad. As a result, German-dubbed American sitcoms have kids constantly yelling “Dead!” Most English speakers of course have trouble with ü and ö. My particular bugaboo is words ending in a schwa versus a more open a. The names Christine and Christina both have 4 syllables, the first ends in a schwa, the second in an open vowel. I have one of each as a sister-in-law and absolutely cannot hear the difference. I’m not even entirely sure which is which.

  16. @CIDUBill: your brother should (no joke) seek medical diagnosis. That’s either a hearing problem or a neurological one. The pin/pen accent thing is not relevant, those folks can hear the difference even if they don’t pronounce the different vowel there. Unless your brother is not a native speaker of Indo-European languages?

    @DemetriosX, I was wondering, “Why would an American be shouting “todt!”? I interpreted your comment completely backwards for whatever reason. In what language does “Christine” have four syllables, German? It’s only written with three. Is the “ch” pronounced as the voiced gutteral commonly written as “kh”?

  17. I was the only on in my college linguistics class who pronounced differently the three words Mary, marry, and merry

  18. I have pointed out to people that in the US (accent aside) BEEN is pronounced “BIN” while in England (also accents aside) BEEN is pronounced “BEAN”.

  19. …and of course, I had to confirm with a British coworker that “Thames” does NOT rhyme with “James”.

    There is book of early writings and cartoons by Dr. Seuss (properly pronounced “Soyse”) entitled “The Tough Coughs as he Ploughs the Dough”.

    Phonetics is weird.

  20. There definitely are regional differences in the US. One is the “caught/cot merger” prevalent in the western areas. The “Mary, marry, and merry” mentioned above is another. Locally, we merge those, but not the former case. I recall years ago on rec.arts.tv that someone “spotted a big error” in the TV show ER. It seems the one of the characters had a name tag that said “Kerry” but she pronounced it “Carrie”. To which many responses were, “what do you mean, that’s correct.”

  21. That’s weird, Big Chief: I’m pretty sure most people I know pronounces those words differently.

    Though I’m not sure about my brother after he’s has a few bears.

  22. My former publisher, who was born and grew up in Connecticut, couldn’t hear the difference between “organ” and “Oregon” — which I didn’t realize until he got angry with me for not explaining why I hadn’t sent him “the piece about the organ lady.”

    (I’d interviewed a female private detective working out of Oregon)

  23. There was a very good article about the Philadelphia accent in the City Paper. Unfortunately, it’s now a dead link. I could e-mail it to anyone interested. Be sure not to mung your edress so well that I can’t decode it.

  24. I’ve heard that “Organ” is how people in Oregon pronounce “Oregon.” And that people in Baltimore say “Balmer.” Here in Massachusetts we have Woosta and Glossta. Quincy is pronounced “Quinsy” like the disease because that’s how John Quinsy Adams and the rest of the family pronounced it.

    I’m not originally from Boston. In a store in Boston I asked for a scarf. “A scaff? A scaff? Oh, you mean a muffla!”

    “Yes,” I said, “a muffla.”

  25. Going to school in western Massachusetts, surrounded by prep school boys from rich New England families, it was like living in a foreign country where they spoke a dialect of English I’d rarely heard before.

  26. St. Paul MN has a “Cretin Avenue” — originally homage to the French “Chrétien,” but well, you know, language drift. . .

    And it used to have a “Cretin High School” but finally got around to changing that name. Finally.

    (I live in Minneapolis.)

  27. Nope: Carl Fink is right. Early Christians were considered stupid because they ‘turned the other cheek’ when hit.

  28. @Carl Fink:
    Christine has 4 syllables in several languages. I was referring to German, but it does in French, too. It ends in a schwa sound, while Christina ends in an open ah sound. Also, the German CH isn’t really guttural, more palatal really. You want guttural, that’s a Dutch G — like a pack-a-day smoker clearing their throat.

    @MiB: Oregonians and other westerners don’t pronounce it “organ”. There’s a sort of semi-elided half vowel in the middle. OR-ih-gun, but practically swallow the uh. Easterners often say Or-ee-gone. There are several Oregons east of the Mississipe. Maybe that’s how they pronounce it.

  29. Nope: Carl Fink is right. Early Christians were considered stupid because they ‘turned the other cheek’ when hit.

    That’s not the etymology that most sources show. Most say that “Christian” meant “human” in certain times and places. It was a reminder that those different were still people.

  30. In “Mother Tongue”, Bryson has a discussion about how people tend to slur familiar names. An example:

    The process is well illustrated by the street in London called Marylebone Road. Visitors from abroad often misread it as “Marleybone.” Provincial Britons tend to give it its full phonetic value: “Mary-luh-bone.” Londoners are inclined to slur it to “Mairbun” or something similar while those who live or work along it slur it even further to something not far off “Mbn.”

  31. @ DemetriosX – No matter how many times I count, I cannot increment the German pronunciation of “Christine” = “kriss-teen-eh” to four syllables.

  32. @Olivier and Kilby:

    I can’t count. That or I’m so used to it being 3 syllables now that it’s normal and I incremented by one on the basis that it’s 3 in English rather than 2.

  33. Thank you. I didn’t want to argue, but “4” made no sense to me. I was making up hypotheses like, ‘Maybe in German you count syllables differently?”

  34. We normally go to the Lancaster area of PA often – 6 times a year not uncommon for us over the years. It bothered us that people knew (without seeing our license plate) that we were from NY – by our accent. We wanted to blend in as we are not generally going to tourist locations there. We found out that among other things it was the aw sound – cawfee instead of cahfay, chawclat instead of chalklet. We started working on this. I am always happy when I talk (tock not tawk) to someone on the phone (this came up before caller ID existed) from somewhere else and they are surprised when I give my address as NY and they say that I don’t sound like I am from here.

    Some there will say rough instead of roo-f for roof. Have found that sentence structure may be different also – instead of “your change is 50cents, it is 50cents is your change.

    We have “Frasier” on TV now – it is the episode that Daphne (character from Manchester, England) is trying to speak like an American. Mostly she says – in a deep voice, slowly “shure”, apparently how she hears them saying it.

    I am guessing that most areas in the US accents are from the earlier settlers. A good part of the NY accent comes from those who have immigrated to and settled here. The typical (not as much any longer) des, dem, dose came the Dutch settlers. Yiddish has worked itself into part of the accent and the words here also – as I have mentioned before when I am posting to my middle America embroidery friends I cannot use words that I can use here which are Yiddishisms as they will not understand them and go crazy trying to say what I mean to say in regular American/English terms. On another needlework group I am many of the women live in the UK. Sometimes we go crazy trying to explain what we mean to each other. (I actually posted a photo of a Subway sandwich once trying to explain it – after Robert reminded me that of course that have hero (subs, grinders…) there as in “Touch of Class” George Segal orders an an “Italian sandwich” – one of the big ones.) What is called calico (a type of fabric) there is any cotton fabric. Here it is a cotton (or cotton/poly) fabric with a type of design printed on it. (Helping a reenacting friend who works at an 18th/19th centuries house understand the existing financial/sales records from the 18th century – and researching – found out that calico was the short way to write “calico cotton” as cotton fabric came from India to England and then traveled on to the colonies here (taxed on each leg of the trip). What we call a sweater they call a jumper – plus the various discussions on pants and trousers we recently had on another thread here.

    I also deal with working on my 18th century “accent” for reenacting and will take terms that the ladies from the UK use to help me.

    The word “hooray” comes from “Huzzah” – “who-zh” (which legend has it came from King George I yelling same when saw a company of hussars). So reenactors will yell huzzah when cheering. Our unit commander has come across discussion that huzzah should be pronounced who-zay as it shows up in songs of the period where it needs to rhyme with other words that in “ray”. So at events with other groups our guys are now yelling who-zay instead of “who-zah”

  35. Some there will say rough instead of roo-f for roof.

    Meryl, I also am familiar with two pronunciations for the vowel in roof, though neither matches what I think rough sounds like. The alternate one is familiar from relatives in eastern Ohio, so that could be the same regional thing as what you encounter in Pennsylvania.

    Let’s see if we can find a couple words that all or most of us will say essentially the same way, then we can use them as reference points. For two (there are more possible, so I don’t say “THE two”) pronunciations of double-o in American spelling, let’s try book and boot. For the sound in book (or put or could) I will write U. For the sound in boot (or too or slew) I will write OO.

    Then: I am used to the pronunciation rOOf, and I think that’s also the one you take to be normal and write as roo-f. The alternate I hear from my Ohio relatives I would then write as rUf. And tho I’m not sure, I think that might be the one you hear in Pennsylvania and wrote as rough. (For me, the actual word rough has a different vowel, like the one in the hesitation filler “uh”. )

    Anyone, do you have some similar variation on the word hood in different senses?

    For me, the part of clothing you can pull over your head is unproblematically pronounced hUd (using the above key, vowel from book).

    As short for “neighborhood”, the word “hood” is still said just like the clothing.

    A petty-criminal or “tough” can be called a “hoodlum” and the first syllable seems to vary, some people saying it just like the above, but others lengthening it to hOOdlVm (with the vowel from boot or cool, and schwa or uh in the second syllable).

    So for people who say hOOdlVm, if you shorten it and call a guy a “hood”, does it revert to hUd like the head covering, or do you stick with hOOd (vowel from cool)?

    I’ve referred to somebody as a hOOd and people had no idea what I was saying!

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