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What are oronyms and homophones

With oronyms, speak bluntly to get your point across, says Roopa Banerjee

Your dentist will probably throw a fit if you hear This can decay many ways” as This candy came anyways”. Oronyms create confusion even when someone is articulate and precise in her pronunciation. For oronyms happen when the sounds of words run into each other and we dont know where one word ends and the other begins. For example, if you say, The stuffy nose” and your friend hears it as The stuff he knows”. Or you mishear The mall” as them all”. This apparent seamlessness in sound is defined as an oronym.

According to the Collins Dictionary, oronyms are a string of words or phrase that sounds the same as another string of words or phrase but is spelt differently; e.g. ice cream and I scream”. The term oronym was coined by wordsmith, humourist and writer Gyles Brandreth in his book The Joy of Lex (1980). An oronym is also called a ‘continunym or a ‘sliceonym.

Oronyms and homophones

You may think oronyms are a lot like homophones. They arent because there is one big difference. Homophones are words that sound similar while oronyms are phrases that sound similar. Therein lies the catch — the confusion caused by oronyms is much more than that caused by homophones. Also, oronyms can lead to misunderstandings, so be careful how you phrase what you say. The parcel was tied by a grey tape” could well be misheard as The parcel was tied by a great ape”. The person who tied that parcel may not take very kindly to that oronym! Or if your child comes home and says: I didnt see Mabel at school today” and you may get flustered if youve heard I didnt seem able at school today”.

Most oronyms are also inadvertently funny. Urgent peace talks were needed to stop the war” loses its pluck entirely when we hear it as Urgent pea stalks were needed to stop the war”! Oronyms can cause a lot of confusion, so always carefully consider the context in which a phrase is spoken. When a librarian says, Reading is allowed in the library,” the context tells us she couldnt possibly have meant Reading is aloud in the library!” On the other hand, His story was never clear to me” could very well sound like history was never clear to me”.

Many oronyms frequently occur in abbreviations. ICT can be heard as I see tea” and VC can be heard as We see”.

Spot the oronyms. Try to read this poem right. Remember that it is full of oronyms.

Eye have a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in its weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

Now read the correct version:
I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC
It plainly marks for my review
Mistakes I cannot see

I strike a key and type a word
And wait for it to say
Whether I am wrong or right
It shows me straight away

As soon as a mistake is made
It knows before too long
And I can put the error right
Its rarely ever wrong

I have run this poem through it
I am sure youre pleased to know
Its letter perfect in its way
My checker told me so

The article was published in the print version of ParentsWorld December 2017 issue.

Also read: Better left unsaid with Anapodoton

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