Just stick as many Ys in there as you can

“Just stick as many Ys in there as you can,” said my mentor–and if the question is how do you spell “homonymy,” then that’s the right answer.

A cherished mentor had this word of advice for me on how to spell words like homonymy and metonymy: 

Just stick as many Ys in there as you can.

I thought about him today as I put together this post about words that I confuse (or that confuse me–I’m never clear on what the underlying semantics of confuse are).  As you can see from my flash cards, I’m working on words that sound the same, but that are written differently.  What do you call those? homo = the same, and graph = writing, so these are homographs.  

Now, two (or more) words can be written the same, but sound different: lead the metal (pronounced like laide in French) and lead the verb (pronounced like lied in English), for instance.  Homo = the same, phone = sound, so these are homophones.

Now, we’ve been making an assumption about homophones (words that sound the same) and homographs (words that are written the same): we’ve been making the assumption that they mean different things.  How about words that sound the same and are written the same–so, they are homophones and homographs–but, they mean different things?  These are homonyms.  Some examples of homonyms in English:

  • duck (a kind of bird) and duck (to move one’s body downward without sitting or lying down)
  • sentence (a group of phrases) and sentence (a punishment) and sentence (to assign a punishment to someone)
  • lead (to direct) and lead (the primary role in a movie, play, or television series)

Where do the Ys come in?  In spelling words like homonymy (the phenomenon of the existence of homonyms) and metonymy (referring to something by something that is associated with it, e.g. referring to the president’s administration as The White House).  Just stick as many Ys in there as you can, said my mentor–and if the question is how do you spell… then that’s the right answer.


I learn about 10 new words a day, except during the month of December, when I review everything that I learned in the previous year.  My French review chore of the day is to get straightened out on a few similar words.  Zipf’s Law being a fact of life–most words almost never occur, and yet they do occur, I actually ran into all of these in 2017.  They’re mostly words that sound the same, but are written differently–so, homographs, homophones, or homonyms?  I threw in some that just sound and look similar–paisible, passable, and passible–but, all of the rest are homophones.  Enjoy!img_4835img_4834img_4836img_4837

13 thoughts on “Just stick as many Ys in there as you can”

  1. A few new words for me here (wasn’t aware of ‘les appas’). Your vocabulary is admirable! What still gives me the hardest time is not the written words but those that sound the same in spoken French with all its running-together sounds. On the radio I will hear: Les maires de France and wonder, ‘Mères de France?’ or ‘mers de France?’ or even ‘merdes de France’ (although admittedly that makes no sense.) Of course it’s the context that saves you but there’s often that moment when I scramble for the meaning.

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    1. I was on a teleconference this evening and someone kept talking about sending me a “pique”, and I thought “seriously, dude? What’d I ever do to YOU?”, but eventually realized that he was saying “PIC”, which is some kind of identifier that I need… Point being, we’re all in the same boat here. 🙂

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      1. Seriously, we are all in that boat for sure! But the number of acronyms used in French? Insane. And you are obviously just supposed to know what they all mean. 😉

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    2. On the right evening, “les appas” can be a charming part of the conversation! 🙂

      I’ll just add these delightful lyrics from Aristide Bruant (A Grenelle):

      Mes bras, mes jambes, mes appas
      Tout ça foutu le camp à grand pas

      …which at my age, I can definitely relate to. Not that I ever had any appas to begin with.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. There is a town in Normandy that has the funny name of “Eu”, pronounced like the pronoun”eux” . When I discovered it I paid myself a pint of laughter thinking about its Mayor, the famous “maire d’Eu” (pronounced necessarily like “merdeux”!)

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    1. Oh, shit–thank you! You reminded me about this Alain Bashung song that I’ve been trying to figure out, which contains the following line that I did not understand:

      Peu à peu tout me happe

      …which until JUST THIS MINUTE I thought was “tu me happe”, because I’m an American and therefore can’t hear the difference between “u” and “ou” (and probably never will)…

      …and so now I’ve looked up “happer”, but I still don’t understand the meaning of “happer” here:

      Tu vois ce convoi
      Qui s’ébranle
      Non tu vois pas
      Tu n’es pas dans l’angle
      Pas dans le triangle

      Comme quand tu faisais du zèle
      Comme quand je te volais dans les plumes
      Entre les dunes

      Par la porte entrebâillée
      Je te vois rêver
      A des ébats qui me blessent
      A des ébats qui ne cessent

      Peu à peu tout me happe
      Je me dérobe je me détache
      Sans laisser d’auréole
      Les cymbales les symboles
      Collent
      On se rappelle
      On se racole
      Peu à peu tout me happe

      Les vents de l’orgueil
      Peu apaisés
      Peu apaisés
      Une poussière dans l’œil
      Et le monde entier soudain se trouble

      Comme quand tu faisais du zèle
      Comme quand je te volais dans les plumes
      Entre les dunes

      Par la porte entrebâillée
      Je te vois pleurer
      Des romans-fleuves asséchés
      Où jadis on nageait

      Peu à peu tout me happe
      Je me dérobe je me détache
      Sans laisser d’auréole
      Les cymbales les symboles
      Collent
      On se rappelle
      On se racole
      Peu à peu tout me happe

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      1. I don’t master English enough to know the right translation, especially because there is not only one for “happer” . When a fish jumps to pick an insect flying just above the water, we say “le poisson happe l’insecte” . But figurativly “happer” can be “catch up”, “seize upon”, or just”catch” when your hand is caught and swallowed by a moving element of a machine, or “sweep up”: “It lets you fine-tune your ideas and consider your alternatives before you get swept up in the fast pace of the actual process” . In this sentence “swept up” is the translation of the French “”happé”and i think it’s close to Bashung’s intention . He feels himself attracted by a magnetic force from the universe, a force that pulls him away from himself .

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