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4-way homonyms

Letter from Bill Hays

Language – June 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine


I just read your May-issue mea culpa for mixing up “incite” and “insight,”, including your brief discourse on homonyms.

This caused me to wonder, as a fellow word herder, on whether you’ve played the 4x-homonym game. It can easily be a one-person pastime performed in the shower, while driving, etc. Basically, how many homonyms — or homophones — can you come up with that have four examples? I can think of a few:

right, rite, write, wright

caret, carat, karat, carrot

so, sow, sew, sough

air, heir, ere, err

Admittedly, some of these require the alternate pronunciation of a word (e.g., err, which would rhyme with fur in the preferred pronunciation, or sough, which rhymes with tough in its preferred form), or a word seldom used without a prefix (e.g., wright, a craftsman, as in wheelwright, playwright, shipwright, etc.). So the only pure one I can think of, with no second pronunciations or truncations, is caret-carat- karat-carrot.

Good words to you,

Bill Hays

Kirkland, Wash.

Dear Bill,

Can’t say we’ve played this, but will have to try it.

In the meantime, your letter brought to mind another aspect of homonyms: proper names. We knew a family named Ayer, who said it was the same as Eyre, which they pronounced the same as air (which made us wonder if that, perhaps, made your 4x-homonym game into a 6x game).

And that led us to reflect on the odd fact that bear, bare, Bayer, and Bexar (a county in Texas) are frequently pronounced the same.

Oh, and there was the time we were making plans to attend my sister’s wedding, but couldn’t find “Pier, South Dakota” on the map, even though she’d clearly said that “Pier” was a big city. Then a couple we knew from South Dakota acted shocked when we said we couldn’t find it, since it was, after all, “the capital.” As it turns out, the wedding was in Pierre. Do you think that could count as a homonym, too? Peer, pier, and Pierre?

Thanks for writing,