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Meet The Nyms
English is a curious, complex, and crazy language. Not least of which are the -nyms.
You may use these in everyday language and not give a second thought unless you’re like me – a wordsmith and amateur etymologist – and such curiosities intrigue you.
Many of us have heard the term ‘Synonym’ – but what does it mean?
A word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language, for example shut is a synonym of close.
Shut / Close*
Far / Distant
Evil / Wicked / Bad / Malevolent
Push / Shove
Jump / Leap
Create / Make
Near / Close*
*See examples below as Close (as in near) and Close (as in close a door) are also Homonyms.
It’s likely you’ve used homonyms regularly but might not have been aware that’s what they were called.
What is a Homonym?
This is more complex – as there are several linguist concepts related to homonyms.
Homographs -words that share the same spelling – regardless of meaning.
Desert (arid region) and desert (to leave)
Bark (the covering on a tree) and bark (the sound a dog makes) * This is also a homonym (as it sounds the same)
Lime (the fruit) and lime (the chemical/material)
Rose (the flower) and rose (to travel upwards)
Tear (to rip) and tear (a drop of moisture from the eye)
Heterophones – words that share the same spelling but are pronounced differently.
Bow (as in bow tie, or violin bow or the weapon) and bow (as in bow of a ship or take a bow) * These are also Heteronyms as they pronounced differently.
Row (as in row a boat or stand in a row) and row (as in argue with one’s spouse) *Also a Heteronym.
Homophones – words that sound the same – regardless of spelling.
Threw (as in threw a ball)/through (to pass through something)
To (the place - go to somewhere)/Two (the number/amount)/Too (also – I want to come too)
Their (Possessive – Their house, their dog etc/There (location – there is the house, there is the dog)/They’re (contract of they are).
For (the ball is for Alex, the knife is for cutting) /Four (the number)/Fore (the front part/golfing term).
Wind (the wind is blowing today)/wind (to wind up a watch) or windy – it is windy today/this road winds around the village.
Antonym - Words with opposite meaning
Add / Subtract
Happy / Sad
Open / Close
Lie / Truth
Contronym (also known as a Janus word) a word having two meanings that contradict one another (also contranym)
– Merrium Webster definition called also antagonym, autoantonym, Janus word
(Janus was the Roman god of doorways and portals – he was the chap with two faces).
Aught – all or nothing,
Cleave – to separate and to join together,
Buckle – to fasten or secure and to bend/warp under pressure,
Dust (verb)– to sprinkle with fine particles (such as dust a cake), or to remove fine particles (to dust a shelf),
Overlook – to fail to see something, or to monitor or inspect,
Fine – excellent or just good enough,
Sanction – to approve or boycott.
For further examples – check HERE
Words that have the same spelling but different meanings if one is capitalized
Polish (from Poland)/polish (to shine something) and Pole (citizen of Poland)/pole (a long piece of wood or metal)
March (the month)/march (walk in step or border territory).
August (the month)/august (respected)
Turkey (the country)/turkey (the bird consumed at Christmas)
Scotch (from Scotland)/scotch (the drink or to scotch a rumour)
Frank (the name)/frank (honesty or to postmark a letter)
Slough (the place)/slough (to shed the skin)
Mass (the religious gathering)/mass (a large object/gathering)
Confused? I’m not surprised.
© A.L. Butcher
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