Words & Stuff

h: Heteroradical Homonyms (Reader Comments and Addenda)

(10 February 1999)

Dominus wrote, quite a long time ago, to note that most of his contributions to the homomorphs list come from the American Heritage Dictionary, which uses a special notation to mark "[w]ords that are identical in spelling but whose meanings and etymologies have little, if anything, in common." (This notation is used whether or not the two words are pronounced the same.) This set of criteria is close to my definition of a homomorph, so searching an electronic AHD for this notation yields quite a few homomorphs. (Note, however, that not all words thus annotated are homomorphs, even if they are pronounced the same. For instance, the dictionary marks "krona" as having two etymologically distinct meanings -- one is Icelandic currency and one is Swedish currency. Despite the word having entered English from both those languages, I can't believe that the two meanings don't ultimately derive from a common source. Similarly, AHD lists "pupil" (part of eye) as derived from Latin "pupilla," meaning "little doll," while "pupil" meaning "student" is derived from Latin "pupillus," "little boy"; it neglects to mention that both Latin words derive from the same root.)

Dominus also added:

When your hat's at a rakish angle, it's because you look like a rake, that is, like a dissipative and libertine fellow, isn't it? Well, no! Although that meaning probably influenced the locution, "rakish" actually means "inclined" already, and "rakish angle" is redundant.

So I've added "rake" to the list, along with several other items he sent around the same time. (Note, however, that "rake" meaning "scoundrel" derives from "rakehell," which has no origin given; it may be related to the garden implement, I'm not sure.)

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Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>