The English language is difficult enough to get to grips with without the added complication of words that sounds the same, but have different meanings, and words that spelt the same but have different meanings, and variations on this.
When we speak we intuitively distinguish the difference between their, there and they’re or full, fool and fall without flinching. They sound the same or similar, but we know they have different meanings because of the context.
It’s only when having to write something that you realise how tough it really is or, perhaps, how little you really understand.
There are many good examples that illustrate the vast array of complexity in our language. Here are a few;
- Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square.
- A guinea pig is not from Guinea and it isn’t a pig.
- We have noses that run and feet that smell.
- How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?
- When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.
- How can ‘slim chance and a ‘fat chance’ be the same?
- If ordinary is nothing special or different, how is extraordinary special and different?
- Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?
- How do oversee and overlook mean the opposite?
- How are a ‘wise man’ and a ‘wise guy’ not the same thing?
And then there’s pronunciation;
- The bandage was wound around the wound.
- The farm was used to produce produce.
- The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
- There is no time like the present to present the present.
- Why would you object to the object?
- The permit was invalid for the invalid.
- There was a row about how to row.
- He was too close to the door to close it.
- The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
- In my shed, I saw a tear in the painting and shed a tear.
- I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
- How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
- If you have a rough cough, climbing can be tough
It’s examples like these, and many more, which make our language so interesting because there seems to be no explanation as to how they came to be. Perhaps when they were inventing words they ran out of ideas so just decided to re-use some.
In reality, many words that are similar in spelling or pronunciation, but have different meanings, were often created in different regions or different countries. As people came together, such as when towns were forming, people had their own version of a particular word, so the language simple expanded to accommodate both.
Although, when you consider the gibberish some people come out with when they’re drunk, you’d think there would be plenty of words to choose from.