English: What is a homonym?

As an English tutor, I’ll share a definition I learned in elementary school.  I had no idea it was controversial.

I remember my spelling text from grade three – yes, it was a textbook.  Each week had a new list of words.  However, the book went further:  it covered a new theme each week as well.

One magic chapter talked about homonyms.  Homonyms, it explained, are words that sound the same but are spelled differently; dear and deer are homonyms, for example.

What was my surprise to discover, 35 years later, that the Yanks don’t necessarily agree with that definition!  Leafing through Websters yesterday, I read that homonyms are spelled the same, but have different meanings.  An example is screen, in the following two contexts:

1)  We’ll screen the applicants carefully.
2)  At the airport, you watch the screen for the arrivals.

That’s homonyms from a Yank point of view.

I wondered if maybe I remembered the definition wrong, so I checked the Oxford Canadian Dictionary.  Its definition comprises both the one I remember and the Websters one.

By the way:  I love the -nym ending:)

 
Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

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