After hearing Pascale mispronouce “Closer” for the twentieth time I stopped snickering and started to think about those crazy words that are spelled the same but have different meanings associated with different pronounciations. They are called heteronyms (check out the link for an interesting additional definition). Each one typifies the vagueries of pronounciation rules in a way that deeply offends my precision-based aesthetics. I am outraged that such words exist! (At least that is my formal statement, off the record I might admit to a little thrill.) Strangely, homophones, the words that sound the same but are written differently, don’t bother me as much, and yet it is my impression that they get more play in popular culture. Life and language are so unfair.

Here are a few of my favorite heteronyms. Usually one meaning/pronounciation is more common and it is fun to try to quickly recall the other. There are a few heteronyms for which one meaning/pronounciation obviously comes directly from another language (such as “resume”); they don’t impress me in the slightest.

closer polish tear bass invalid
intimate number lead object pussy

(I didn’t think of all of these myself, once again the internet is my friend.)

Further reading: a Google search for heteronyms gives some good results. The top hit right now comes from a dermatoligist at the Univ. of Michigan: The Heteronym Homepage.

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