Wednesday July 6, 2011
A look at homonyms
By NITHYA SIDHHU
Words that are spelt the same and sound alike but with different meanings.
MY neighbour’s 11-year-old girl asked me, “A man whose wife was ready to give birth, took her to Pizza Hut. Do you know why?”
I thought for a minute and then shook my head.
“Pizza Hut promises free delivery!” she shouted triumphantly.
I had to smile. The word “delivery” does have two meanings! A mother delivers a child and Pizza Hut guys do deliver the pizza you ordered to your house!
Come to think of it, I used the word “minute” a minute ago. This word, too, can be used in different ways.
For example: “It will take me 30 minutes to finish writing the minutes of this meeting.”
Yes, while one refers to time, the other meaning for the word “minutes” refers to the detailed account you give about a discussion.
As for the word “account”, it also has another meaning! When you give an account of an event, you are telling what transpired and happened. But, when you do the accounts, you are giving the facts and figures of a transaction in ringgit and sen.
Hey, did you notice that I just used the word “figures”? This word has several meanings.
For beginners, it’s a word that refers to the numbers involved. But, if someone compliments you on your figure, you know he’s talking about your curves!
Also, if you are confused about an issue, you may be asked to take some time and figure it out. In this case, you are asked to work out the meaning of what you have been told.
Did I just use the word “issue”? I did, didn’t I?
Welcome then to another word with double meaning – what’s the issue about “issue”?
Well, for one thing, while an issue can refer to an important matter, it can also mean something else. For instance, if someone asks you whether you have any issues, he could also be asking whether you have any children!
And, if someone were to issue you a summons or a receipt, this now refers to the act of handing you a slip of paper.
Slip? Oops, did I just say “slip”? Yes, I did!
Well then, a slip of paper means a sheet or document but if I wrongfully addressed my boss as “Mrs” instead of “Miss”, and she’s upset, then I’d better be quick to apologise by saying that it was a slip of my tongue – which means it was a mistake on my part.
How about the word “quick”? Any double meaning here? Definitely!
To be quick is to be fast (in terms of minutes taken) but if a friend has “cut you the quick”, this means that he has hurt you deeply.
Okay, have I left out anything? Ah yes, the word “left” itself. If I have forgotten and left my purse at home, I might have to turn left at the next junction to get to the nearest bank.
If someone gave me directions to an unfamiliar bank, I might ask, “Do I have to turn right or left?” just to make sure.
That someone might say to me, “Yes, you’re right. You have to turn left!”
So, the joke about the right and left side of the brain still holds. You don’t know the joke? Let me throw some light on this issue. The joke goes like this:
“A man went to have his brain examined. When the surgeon checked his left brain, nothing was right. When he examined the right brain, nothing was left!”
Ah, I used the expression “throw some light”, right? Here are two more words that can be spelt in one way but have two completely different meanings.
“Throw” could well be substituted with the word “shed” but do you know that if you throw away something, you are getting rid of it?
Also, if you throw on a sweater, you are not giving it to the dustbin but actually putting one on?
As for the word “light” – in one respect, I could be talking about the light from the sun or a lamp. In another, I could be talking about weight issues. For instance, if you’re a gentleman, don’t be upset if I told you that my bag is light enough and I can carry it myself without your help.
Ever met people who don’t laugh enough? People who are too serious for words? We tell such people to “lighten up” – that is, take it easy and be more relaxed and open.
But if someone tells you not to “light up” in your restaurant, he is telling you politely not to smoke in his eatery.
Ah, the word “light” – how much warmth it generates when you tell a child, “You light up my life” or “You are the light of my life.”
Are you on track with me so far? Am I on the right track when I tell you that English is as fascinating or as confusing as you choose to make it?
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough. It’s time for me now to make tracks for the kitchen and track down my maid as well as track what she has been doing while I was writing this piece.
Oh dear, did I say “piece”? Oh, oh, this word has a few meanings, too. But, no, I think I’ll stop here. I’ve said my piece and made my peace with you, I hope.
Until we meet again through this column, let me take a minute to remember whether I have any minutes to write.
No, I don’t think so but I do think I have a group meet-up this afternoon. A meeting of similar minds – ah, that I shall look forward to.
Look – did I say “look”? Ok, Ok I’m stopping here but if you can find some time, do look up the many meanings of the word look.