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quod·li·bet \Quod"li*bet\ (kw[o^]d"l[i^]*b[e^]t), n. [L., what you please.] 1. A nice point; a subtilty; a debatable point. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) Also quodlibertarian and quodlibetic - purely academic!

English Spelling? Does English really work this way?

* Pronounce "ghoti".
* Pronounce "Phtholognyrrh".
* Spell "coffee" completely wrong.
Go to the bottom of the page for answers!

Monday, March 19, 2007


Heteronyms: Words, unlike Homonyms, that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, with different meanings. At current count I have 42 including one three-way!

For example:
  • lupine, pronounced lu-píne or lu-pin, oflikeor relating to a wolf or wolves or a plant of the pea family, with deeply divided leaves and tallcolorfultapering spikes of flowers.
  • does, pronounced dós or duz, the plural of a female deer, and the third person singular present tense conjugation of the verb "do".
  • tower. pronounced tow-er or toe-er - pylon, tall structure or one who tows or pulls something.
  • appropriate, pronounced a-pro-pré-et or a-pro-pré-ate - suitable, fitting vs to take without permission, expropriate.
  • lead, pronounced léd or led - Proceed before vs the poisonous heavy metal.
  • read, pronounced réd or red - Both present tense and past
    in one spelling.
  • unionize, pronounced únyun·ized or un·Íonize - Join a union vs take away ions.
  • minute, pronounced min-út or mÍn-úte - 60 seconds vs very small.
  • lived, pronounced liv-d or liv-ed - Life in the past vs red in the face.
  • bow(ed), pronounced bow(ed) or bów(ed) - Done at the waste/prow of boat vs tie(d) in a ribbon.
  • shower, pronounced show·er or shów·er - Like bathing vs one who demonstrates something.
  • sewer, pronouncer soo·wer or só·wer - Where the waste water is vs one who uses needles and pins.
  • tear, pronounced tér or tare - From the eye vs from a rip.
  • router, pronounced router or rooter - machine to mill wood or a horse trained for distance races.
  • bass, pronounced base or bass - as in astring bass(viol) vs a fine tasting fish.
  • Polish, pronounced Pólish or polish - as in one from Poland or what one does after applying wax to one's car.
  • intimate, pronounced in-ti-mit or int-i-mate - meaning close and personal or to suggest imply.
  • row, pronounced rou or rów - a noisy dispute or quarrel vs to propel a boat with oars.
  • coop, pronounced coop or có-op - a place for chickens or alternate spelling for co-op (co-operatrive)
  • present, pronounced pre-zent or pré-zent or pré-sent
    -a gift vs to give something or vs be sent in advance - a three-way Heteronym!
  • close, pronounced clóz or clós - to shut up vs to be near.
  • rebel, pronounced re-bel' or re'bel -to renounce allegiance or subjection vs one who breaks with or opposes constituted authority or the established order.
  • contract, pronounced con-tract or ceun-tract - to have a formal writen relationship vs to tighten, shrink in size.
  • learned, pronounced lurn'd or lurn-ed - having acquired the knowledge vs being one full of knowledge.
  • buffet, pronounce buf-á or buf-et - meal at which people serve themselve vs be hit especially repeatedly.
  • desert, pronounced des-ert or de-sert - dry barren region vs abandon.
  • dove, pronounced duv or dóve - a small wild pigeon vs plunged into water headfirst.
  • entrance, pronounced en-trence or en-trànce - means or place of enter vs fascinate or delight.
  • moped, pronounced móp'd or mó-ped - be sad or listless vs low-powered motorbike[Alternate spelling].
  • wind, pronounced wind or wínd - movement of the air vs have or follow a curving course.
  • wound, pronounced woo-nd or wow-nd - injury in which the skin is broken vs followed a curving course.
  • record, pronounced rec-ord or ré-cord -noun, a note or top score vs to capture sound on a storage device.
  • produce, pronounced pró-duce or pro-dooce, what comes off the farm vs to make, create something.
  • pension, pronounced pen(t)-sh&n or päns-yOn - a fixed sum paid regularly to a person vs accommodations especially at a continental European hotel or boardinghouse.
  • refuse, pronounced re-"fyüs or ri-'fyüz - the worthless or useless part of something : trash, garbage vs to show or express unwillingness to do or comply with.
  • august, pronounced Or-gist or awe-gust - the month of vs exalted.
  • resign, pronounced re-zine or re-sine - give up deliberately vs sign on again See Janus Words.
  • resolve, pronounced re-Zolved or re-solved - determine to do vs solve again.
  • predial, pronounced pre-dial or pré-di-al - to dial on advance vs of or relating to land or its products.
  • project, pronounced pra-ject or pro-ject - noun, a specific plan or design vs verb, to cause to protrude.
  • leading, pronounced léd -ing or led-ing - ahead or font spacing.
  • slaver, pronounced sláver or slaver - a ship that transports Slaves or Saliva dripping from the mouth.
  • axes, pronounced ax-es or ax-és - more tan one axe, hatchet or more than one axis.

I keep adding to this list! If you know of any I missed please post a comment.


John and Becca said...

I like "lather." It has three meanings, each with a different pronunciation. Soap will lather, a lather (short a, hard th) makes lathes (wood slates), and a lather (long a, soft th) uses lathes (spinning cutting tools).

Don Ricklin said...

Just found 'reside(d/s): To live at a house vs to put new siding on that house.


Don Ricklin said...

Another new one. Luger, a german gun or a Winter Olympian.


Don Ricklin said...

Just added Axes to heteronyms.

  • ghoti is pronounced: fish, 'gh' as in tough, 'o' as in women and 'ti' as in motion! Attributed to George Bernard Shaw by some. Visit GHOTI for a rant against this "joke" about english pronuciation.
  • Phtholognyrrh pronounced: Turner, According to a Mr. Turner who insisted on signing his name that way according to Robert M. Rennick in I Didn't Catch Your Name, Verbatim® Vol. XXix, No2. Mr Turner explains: " Look, the phth is like phthisic, which is pronounced t; olo is like colonel, which is pronounced ur; gn as in gnat is pronounced n; and yrrh as in myrrh, is pronounced er. So you have Turner. Nothing could be simpler." Reader's Digest, Jan . 1941, p. 42
  • coffee spelled completely incorrectly is kauphy! or kaughy!