As a word wonk, an inveterate cryptic crossword solver and even an occasional cryptic crossword compiler, I’ve long been fascinated by the literary phenomenon, found in most languages, of the homonym (from Greek, meaning ‘same name’). It’s quite mind-bending to grasp the subtle differences between a homonym and its two offspring, the homophone (‘same sound’) and the homograph (‘same spelling’).
A word pronounced or spelt the same way as another word but having a different meaning, eg: to, two and too; minute (small), minute (period of time).
A word pronounced the same way as another word but differing in meaning or spelling or both, eg: whales, Wales and wails.
A word spelt the same way as another word but having a different meaning and sometimes different pronunciation, eg: bow (archery equipment), bow (front of boat), bow (bend at the waist), bow (tied loops).
In other words, when homonyms have the same sound they’re homophones and when they have the same spelling they’re homographs. Any the wiser? No, neither am I. Perhaps a diagram will help:
mane main thing about these literary terms is the weigh way they are the bases basis of the pun and thus the caw core of every bad joke ever tolled told. Like this one, for example: A man is running down St Mary Street in Cardiff when a policeman stops him and asks “Why are you rushing?” To which the man replies “But I’m not Russian, I’m from Cwmtyleri.”