A New Word Classification?

In Not Quite a Homonym I noted a curiosity of language and wondered if there was a term for it. Recall that the words raising this issue were popery and pot pourri. Here we have a pair meaning the same thing, sounding alike, but spelled differently.

With regard to the meaning (a noisome stench), my buddy Flapper Tank Ball quite independently put a different spin on this. He wrote me earlier this week about fainting from the hideous incense, after being dragooned into Roman Catholic services as a lad. And indeed, the only time I've entered an RC church, for a memorial service of a fallen colleague, I was bowled over. I detected the reek from the parking lot. Why do they do that? Is it supposed to make altar boys complaisant, or what?

Back to language. After the question arose, I proceeded to chase down various ideas, consulting well-loved text books from the past. The hunt brought back to mind my first dalliance with language in college. The eternal lover.

Freshman and sophomore years were consumed with studying anything and everything dealing with language. I took three courses from the erudite Dr. John Foster (History of the English Language, Structural Grammar and Transformational Grammar) as well as a course in linguistics from an anthropologist, Dr. England if I recall her name aright. All this in addition to my Spanish studies and reading on my own. Long before mathematics grabbed me in the nether regions.

The pleasure of the chase came back to me this week!

I thought I'd write up a bit of what I found and then make a proposal.

There are apparently four similar word classifications, and they're more precise than I had at first imagined.

Homograph: Two words are homographs if they share the same spelling but have different meanings. The pronunciation is irrelevant. An easy example is bear (the animal) and bear (endure or carry). In this case, the pronunciations are identical, though that's not insisted upon for homographs.

For another instance, consider read in the present tense and read in the past tense. Once again they're spelled identically, but differ in meaning since separated by time. Note however, that the pronunciations differ ("reed" versus "red," if spelled phonetically).

Heteronym: Heteronyms are also homographs, but in this case it's insisted upon that the pronunciations be different. In other words, the collection of heteronyms is a subset of the collection of homographs. To be specific, the spelling is shared, the meanings differ and the pronunciations must also differ.  Read ("reed") and read ("red") mentioned above are examples. For another pair, consider bow (which the actor does at the end of a performance) and bow (used to play a violin). For emphasis, a heteronym is a homograph which is spoken differently from its mate.

Homophone: Here we have a pair of words with different meanings but the same pronunciation. The spelling this time is irrelevant. For example, bow (used to play a violin) and bow (the knotted ribbon on a gift package). The spellings and pronunciations are identical in this case.

Or how about bear (the animal) and bare (naked). Once more two words with different meanings, but they sound the same. In this case, the spellings differ.

Homonym: This is the word most people think they know, but it actually has a fairly precise meaning in the study of language. In particular, homonyms are homophones (a subset once again) but the spellings of the two constituents must be different. Bear and bare, mentioned above, are one such pair. Another would be bow (front of a ship) and bough (branch on a tree).

For emphasis, homonyms sound the same, mean different things but must be spelled differently.

Those are the four classifications my searching turned up this week. But note that none of them apply to the popery/pot pourri problem. To be specific, this combo has the same meaning, the same pronunciation but different spellings. Even the close cousin synonym doesn't nail it.

You might be thinking at this point that I'm trying to classify something so unique it doesn't even deserve a name. Well! Just yesterday morning, I awoke and had the words draft and draught (both verbs) running through my head. I really did see them in my dreams.

As far as I'm concerned, two instances deserve a term. I've given this a great deal of thought. Since all of the others, mentioned above, derive from Greek roots, then so must the new one. I finally decided upon:


How's that hit you? Iso, meaning "same" and phone meaning "sound."

Another possibility is isoennoialexi, which seemed a bit too grandiloquent. 

So, to conclude, would it seem reasonable to sponsor the following definition?

isophone (n): one of a pair of words which mean the same thing, are pronounced identically, yet are spelled differently.

And we have our first two examples: popery/pot pourri and draft/draught.

Any others come to your mind?

Next vignette: Etymologia Sexualis

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