March 4th, when I’m posting this, is big for word nerds like me. It’s not just a date but a directive. That’s if you hear it differently.
You see, “march” is a homograph and “fourth” is a homophone.
Homographs are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, regardless of pronunciation. The ending, “graph”, refers to how it’s written. So “March” is a month, but “march” also means to walk in a deliberate manner.
Homophones are words that are pronounced the same as another word, regardless of spelling, but have a different meaning, The ending, “phone”, refers to sound. So if you hear “fourth” but think “forth”, then “March 4th” the day becomes “march forth” the action.
There are tons of examples of homographs, like:
- bass – a fish, a deep voice
- minute – a unit of time, something tiny
- wave – a hand movement, water crashing
- evening – time of day, smoothing out something
- down – a lower direction, the fluff on a bird
- bat – a baseball implement, the winged animal
- fit – a match, a tantrum
- lead – a metallic element, a position at the front, to guide
- compact – something small, a case for makeup
- fine – very good, a financial penalty
- accent – to emphasize, a manner of speaking
- spring – the season, to move suddenly, a resilient coil
- bank – a slope of land, to tilt or turn, a financial institution
- content – satisfied, a part or something contained
- bear – the animal, to endure
- entrance – to delight someone, a place of entry
- moped – to act sad, a motorized bike
- light – to have little weight, something that illuminates
Homophones, meanwhile, include:
- raise, rays and raze
- two, too and to
- their, they’re and there
- hour, our
- know, no
- knows, nose
- one, won
- ate, eight
- meet, meat
- air, heir
- do, dew
- be, bee
- die, dye
- knot, not
- dear, deer
- hear, here
- knight, night
- cereal, serial
- mail, male
- peace, piece
- principle, principle
- suite, sweet
- wait, weight
You can have a good homophone run just with words linked to religion…or not. Like nun, pray, hymn and holy vs. none, prey, him and wholly.
Sometimes, homophones apply to multiple words (phrasal homophones), and those are called oronyms. An example is, well, example and eggs sample. Others:
- ice cream, I scream
- sadder day, Saturday
- a nice cold shower, an ice cold shower
- stuffy nose, stuff he knows
- outstanding in her field, out standing in her field
- euthanasia, youth in Asia
- tulips, two lips
- four candles, fork handles,
- the sky, this guy
- oblivion, a Bolivian
- real eyes, real lies, realize
- a dressed male, addressed mail
- them all, the mall
Several words are both homophones and homographs. “Right”, “write” and “rite” are homophones, while “right”, as a homograph, can mean a side, an entitlement or correct.
To add to all this language fun this March 4th, “March” is a capitonym. That’s a word whose meaning changes depending on whether its first letter is upper or lower case. For instance:
- August the month, and august as in venerable
- Cancer the astrological sign, and cancer the disease
- Hamlet the play, and hamlet as in small town
- Polish as in person or language from Poland, and polish as in to make smooth
- Turkey the country, and turkey the bird
- China the country, and china the dishes
- Mobile the city in Alabama, and mobile as in capable of moving
- Mercury the planet, and mercury the substance
- Apple the company, and apple the fruit
- Frank the name, and frank as in forthright
- Bill the name, and bill as in the amount owed
- Cologne the city in Germany, and cologne the perfumed liquid
- Nice the city in France, and nice as in pleasant
So if you have a nice niece from Nice, and want to polish the china for her visit, the homophone and homograph combinations can make you dizzy.
Given the linguistics lesson, I should note that March 4th happens to be National Grammar Day in the U.S. – go figure.
With it’s homograph/homophone meaning, March 4th is also the unofficial day to make an effort to improve your life or reach a goal. In fact, that’s the Urban Dictionary definition. It’s known as Do Something Day too; the only day of the year that’s a sentence, and that tells you to do something. So march forth.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, information, motivation, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, learning, etc.
March 4, 2020