discreet (də̇ˈskrēt) vs. discrete (dəˈskrēt)


This is a guest post by Aisha R. from California who participated in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2016 and 2017.

Hi everyone! My name is Aisha and I am a 12 year old 7th grader. When Tara announced that she was doing a homonym theme on her blog, I was quick to volunteer to write a guest post.

An interesting pair of homonyms that I found are discrete (detached or separate) and discreet (prudent, modest, or unobtrusive). Both words come from the Latin verb discernere which means to separate or to distinguish. Unfortunately, the shared etymology makes these words difficult to differentiate.

A good way to remember the definition for the word discrete is that the two e’s in the word are separated by the t. Here is a picture to help you remember this trick.

discrete memory trick

Thank you Aisha, for taking the time to share this pair of homophones with us and your trick to remembering how to spell discrete. It is  interesting to note that the word “discern” (to recognize or identify as separate or distinct) also comes from the Latin verb discernere.



complacent (kəm-plā-sənt) vs. complaisant (kəm-plā-sənt)

Let’s kick off our homonym theme with a pare pair of adjectives that I find to be particularly tricky. The words complacent and complaisant are homophones as well as heterographs. As you may recall, homophones are words that sound the same, but are defined differently, while heterographs have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings.

Both words are derived from the Latin infinitive complacere meaning to please. Complaisant means “a desire to please,” whereas complacent means “pleased with one’s self” or “self-satisfied,” and usually has a negative connotation. To make it more confusing, one of the definitions of complacent IS complaisant! However, if you use the word complacent to mean “willingness to please or oblige others”, linguists will probably label it incorrect.

Stay tuned for another tricky homonym pear pair soon!




homonyms (hä-mə-nims)

homonymsThe English language is full of homonyms, or more specifically homographs, homophones, heterographs, and heteronyms. This is enough to make your head spin! Such words serve to make English one of the most difficult languages to learn. They are the bane of my existence, and probably yours too.

Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same or have the same spelling but have different definitions. The word homonym comes from the Greek roots homo- meaning same and -nym meaning name.  Homographs and homophones are a subset of homonyms.

Homographs are words that have the same spelling, but have different meanings. The Greek root -graph- means to write, so homograph can be translated into “same writing.” An example would be “bat” (animal) and “bat” (baseball bat).

Heteronyms are a class of homographs. The Greek root hetero- means other or different so heteronyms are words  with “different names.” They share the same spelling, but have different pronunciations and meanings. An example is “minute” (time unit) and “minute” (pronounced mīn.yüt – meaning very small).

Homophones are words that sound the same but are defined differently. Homophones literally mean “same sound” (-phon is the Greek root for sound). If the homophones are spelled the same, they are also homographs but if they are spelled differently, they are called heterographs.

Heterographs are words that have “different writing”. They have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and definitions. “Knight” (soldier) and “night” (evening) are examples of heterographs.

For the next several posts, I’d like to delve further into this category of English words. To help me explore this topic, I’ve enlisted the help of some of my fellow National Spelling Bee participants who have volunteered to write about a pair of words that they find to be particularly irksome.

Are there any homonyms that always manage to trick you?






syzygy (si-zə-jē)

On August 21, 2017, millions of people in North America witnessed a rare astronomical event – a total eclipse of the Sun. This occurs when the Moon’s orbit aligns with the Earth and Sun.

When the Moon passes in front of the Sun, it casts two different types of shadows on Earth, the umbral shadow (umbra literally means “shadow” in Latin) and penumbral shadow. The umbral shadow is quite small, while the penumbral shadow covers a larger area of the Earth’s surface. In order to experience a total eclipse, you must be within the umbral shadow, or the path of totality, during the time of the eclipse.

The path of totality on August 21st was 70 miles wide, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina. However, everyone in the United States experienced a partial eclipse, even if they were not in the path of totality.

In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, syzygy* occurred for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. This was one of the longest periods of totality that could be viewed in the United States. Hopkinsville is a relatively short drive from our house and we decided to make the trek for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We drove to a friend’s farm and sat in a quiet, open, field to watch this awe-inspiring event.

At the time of totality, the birds stopped singing, the cicadas started chirping, and darkness fell upon us. There was a peaceful white light emanating from the Sun and it was beautiful. We even witnessed the dazzling “Diamond Ring effect” as totality ended. I am truly grateful to have experienced this event with my family.

*Syzygy occurs when three celestial bodies align perfectly. The word comes from the Greek word syzygos which means yoked or united together.

Name That Animal: Challenge #6

What would you name this mysterious creature? (Image from pinterest)

It’s time for a Name that Animal Challenge, so here’s Challenge #6!

Pretend that you are a scientist and you have just discovered this new species and you have the privilege of naming it. Scientists usually name new species by using Greek or/and Latin roots because the prefixes, stems, and suffixes are just like building blocks that you can utilize in countless ways.

Your challenge is to name the strange animal in the picture above using your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. Keep in mind that you can use characteristics like size, color, or shape to name this animal. Feel free to search my blog to find root words to help you or use the list below!


lago-                                                 hare

ornitho-                                           bird

cephal-                                            head

-cephalic                                         head

-cephaly                                          head

-pter-                                               wing

phag-                                                eat

-phyll-                                                leaf


lepor-                                                hare

-corp-                                                body

cunic-                                               hare

-capit-                                               head

ali-, al-                                              wing

avi-, av-                                            bird

I came up with lagcephalopter. The letter “o” is the most common way to link Greek roots, and the letter “i” is used to link Latin roots. However, you can do whatever you like and enjoy!

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out  Name That Animal Challenge #1, Name That Animal Challenge #2, Name That Animal Challenge #3, Name That Animal Challenge #4, and Name That Animal Challenge #5.

Insider’s Guide to the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee – Memorable Moments

Last night, we attended an awards banquet at which the top 15 finalists were honored. Afterwards, spellers went to a farewell dance party. The party is my favorite part of Bee Week because it’s a time to celebrate and relax!

One of the most memorable moments of this year’s Bee was when Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton: An American Revolution, responded to a tweet about me with a “Go Tara!” I am a HUGE fan of Lin-Manual Miranda so this was a very exciting moment for me!

The Scripps National Spelling Bee celebrated its 90th Bee this year. To commemorate this milestone, Rookwood Pottery created a beautiful work of pottery for each speller. It features 4 books, each of which is inscribed with a different message relating to the Bee’s mission to “Inspire” students to “Discover” and “Achieve.” I will always treasure this amazing piece of pottery.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey with me! I have one year of eligibility left and I plan on working hard to make it back to the Scripps National Spelling Bee next year.