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.

cynophilist (sī-näfələ̇st)

Happy Valentine’s Day! We have a new love in our lives and I have been very excited to write this post for many months. In September of 2016, we brought home a 12-week-old Tibetan Spaniel puppy. We named her Coco Cuddles, and she is adorable, sweet, and cuddly.

Tibetan Spaniels are a rather uncommon breed, but we have found that this particular breed suits our family perfectly. Coco is loving, lively, alert, smart, playful, and sometimes mischievous. As their name would suggest, Tibetan Spaniels originated in Tibet. They are a very old breed; they are depicted in Asian art dating back to 1100 BC.

Tibetan Spaniels can be many different colors with various markings, but our Coco is  parti colored, meaning that she is a mix of different colors – she is white with light sable markings. She is almost 8 months old now and weighs 8 pounds. Her adult weight will be between 13 and 15 pounds, so she won’t really gain much more weight.

By now, you’ve probably guessed that the word cynophilist has something to do with dogs! Cynophilist comes from the Greek roots cyn-, meaning dog, and phil-, meaning love so the word means “dog lover.”

Are any of you cynophilists?

To see more pictures of baby Coco, go to Briallu Tibetan Spaniels – Coco’s litter name was Penelope.

lethifold (lēthə-fōld)

A Lethifold is shroud of darkness that preys upon sleeping wizards or Muggles. (image from www.moviepilot.com)

In Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Newt Scamander states that a Lethifold is a very rare creature that dwells in tropical climates. A Lethifold looks like a black cloak that floats along ominously during the night seeking victims who are sleeping. Once its prey has been suffocated thoroughly, it simply digests them in their beds, leaving no trace of its victims.

Since Lethifolds are stealthy killers, it is difficult to find much information about them. However, Flavius Belby, who survived a Lethifold attack, wrote the earliest account of Lethifolds in 1782. During the attack, Belby writes that he tried to overcome the Lethifold by using a Stupefying Charm and an Impediment Hex, neither of which worked. Finally, Belby cast the Patronus Charm, which repelled the Lethifold successfully.

The Ministry of Magic rates these highly dangerous creatures XXXXX, meaning that they are known to kill wizards and it is not possible to train or domesticate them.

Lethifold contains the Latin root leth-, meaning deadly or fatal. Leth- was probably influenced by the Greek word “lethe,” referring to the mythological river in the Underworld whose waters caused spirits to forget everything about their former lives. It makes sense that the word “lethe” would later influence the Latin “leth-” because if a person forgets who he is and loses all his memories, he loses his sense of self which is similar to death.  Since the Lethifold is a deadly creature, this name seems apropos.

Join me next week as we continue exploring fantastic creatures from the Harry Potter world. I hope you are all enjoying these posts as much as I am enjoying writing them!

Name That Animal: Challenge #5

What would you name this fantastic beast? (Image from Pinterest)

I haven’t published a Name That Animal Challenge in several months, so here you go!

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

Your challenge is to name the interesting 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 the animal. Feel free to search my blog to find root words to help you or use the list below.

Greek:

hippo-, -hippus                             horse

morph                                               form, shape

cephal                                               head

pter                                                    wing

Latin:

equi-, -equus                                 horse

corp                                                   body

ungul-, ungula                              hoof

caput                                                head

ali-, al-                                             wing

avi-, av-                                           bird

I came up with hippopter or winged horse. 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!

It’s not too late to participate in my  Name That Animal Challenge #1, Name That Animal Challenge #2,  and Name That Animal Challenge #3, and Name That Animal Challenge #4.

psephology (sēˈfäləjē)

Today is a historic day in the United States because a new president will be elected. Psephologists everywhere will be trying to analyze and predict the outcome of this year’s election.

Psephology comes from the Greek roots pseph– meaning pebble, and –logy, meaning study of. Logically, psephology should then be the study of pebbles or perhaps rocks. However, psephology is actually the study of voting and elections.

This may not initially make sense, until you realize that the Ancient Greeks utilized pebbles to vote for public officials. The Greeks would deposit a pebble into an urn to indicate the candidate they wished to elect.

You might also be interested in the derivation of two other words related to elections – candidate and vote. The word candidate comes from the Latin word candidatus, which literally means “clothed in white.” In ancient Rome, a person seeking a public office would wear a toga whitened with chalk. The word candidate came into the English language at the beginning of the 17th century.

The word vote ultimately comes from the Latin word votum, which means a vow or a wish. This could mean that when people cast a vote, they are wishing for a better future and hoping that the candidate that they are voting for will do everything in their power to honor their promises or vows.

Even though I am not old enough to vote, I will be accompanying my parents as they cast their votes today!

 

 

vexillology (veksəˈläləjē)

 

The Rio Olympics are well underway, making this a great time to engage in vexillology.

Vexillology is the study of flags. It originates from the Latin word vexillum, which means flag, and contains the Greek suffix -logy, which means study of.

There are 206 countries, each with their own unique flag, participating in this year’s Olympics. Some particularly fascinating flags belong to the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Japan. Bhutan’s flag depicts the national symbol of the country, Druk, the Thunder Dragon.  Nepal’s flag is the only flag in the world that is not rectangular or square; it consists of two pennants stacked on each other, which represent the peaks of the Himalayan mountains. Japan’s flag is beautiful in its simplicity – a solitary red disc, symbolizing the sun, on a white background.

The Olympic flag itself is quite interesting. It depicts five colorful rings, each of which represents a continent. The interlocking rings represent the unity of the continents and the meeting of athletes from all over the world.

Are any of you vexillophiles? If so, which flags are your favorite?