Word of the Week

09/03/2013 15:58

Get Confused, Sweat Hard!

Everybody must have heard about homonyms. I remember my primary school teacher stressing out the differences between homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. But back then I had no idea how many nyms there were lurking among all the linguistic terms. Gradually my vocabulary grew larger with words like heteronym, acronym and autoantonym. I was sure that there were more nym words out there, and I was just waiting for the moment to chance upon them.


Photo: flickr

The  last nym word I bumped into was in a coach heading from an Austrian town called Bad Gastein to Villach. I shared a compartment with a nice English-speaking couple. We talked about different topics and I asked them what they thought about Australians, Canadians, Americans and other English-speaking people. When they described Australians as ruff oaks, I pondered the words I had just heard for a while, feeling lost. How stupid I was not to understand the metaphor. When I changed trains in Villach, I started reading a book on linguistics written in a kind of a fairytale style and suddenly, I saw it.  The word stuck in my head was an ORONYM.

So what is this oronym? In The Language Instinct Steven Pinker defines it as follows: [In speech] it is impossible to tell where one word ends and the next begins. The seamlessness of speech is... apparent in "oronyms," strings of sound that can be carved into words in two different ways. If you still don't get it, I will explain it again in plain English. It is a kind of a homonym applied on more than one word. Still not getting my point? OK, let's try some examples. At church you might hear about a vision-impaired teddy or the cross-eyed bear. This leads us to a question, do you really think of Australians as being similar to an oak with a ruff around the trunk? Perhaps, they are only some rough folks after all. Let me flood you out with some more oronyms... four reek samples...

The Jimi Hendrix song, ‘Purple Haze’ contains the line: “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”, which is so often misheard as: “Excuse me while I kiss this guy”. Apropos, he actually sang the alternative version at his concert.

Here is another one:

When you kiss your honey
While your nose is runny
You may think that it's funny--
But it's snot.

And in tea end, my deer fell of surgeon the Internet for other oronyms to practise because it's the only way you can differentiate the poppy cock from a mean ink.

Zuzana Rajčáková