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News & views

Sum torque on heterographs

[18 Dec 2011] Heterographs – words that have the same sound but different spellings and meanings – are, like very ripe cheese, a rich vein of pleasure to only a few people. They’re the sauce (ahem) of many puns and jokes. If you’re lucky, there’ll be at least one in your box of Christmas crackers, eg:
Q: ‘Why does Santa Claus have three gardens?’
A: ‘So he can hoe, hoe, hoe.’ (ho, ho, ho)

The heterograph spotter’s special delight is mistakes with the rare triple varieties like taut, taught and tort. Classic FM’s website is showing one at the moment:
• ‘Howard Goodall takes over the reigns of the Full Works Concert each and every Saturday night with his choice of great works.’

Goodall may be a right royal presenter but ‘reins’ would be the right word here – rains/reigns/reins being the heterographs.

And a Times reader commenting on the Hans Hofman picture ‘Primary Colors’ in 2008 wrote:
• ‘In my opinion this vivid pallet really expresses what Hofman was trying to achieve in his work.’

So that would need to be ‘palette’, rather than a builder’s pallet full of bricks or the gourmet’s refined palate.

There is at least one sixfold heterograph – and no quibbling at the back about slight differences in pronunciation: hue (colour), hew (cut), Hugh (Grant), ewe (sheep), you (thee) and yew (tree). Conferences in exotic locations have focused on lesser linguistic phenomena than this. 

Stop press: thanks to readers who’ve sent in the following treasures: ‘mews/muse’, ‘aisle/isle’ and ‘Appalachian/appellation’. A committee will now be/bee convened on whether/weather proper nouns are aloud/allowed in this growing list/Liszt.

If you have a favourite heterograph, do please email it to me via the website. [MC] 

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