Stephanie Stevens ended up being my fourth grade teacher. She was hired on at my school and stayed for exactly one school-year. As a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing to be one of four kids from my old class to be pulled out and placed in this new class held on the second floor in what was the only two-story building on the grounds. Why I was chosen, I have no idea. She arrived a couple of weeks into the school year so it wasn’t too hard to say goodbye to Mrs. Morrison and integrate into this new class. There were already three fourth grade teachers at the school and looking back on it as an adult, it makes no sense to me why they would bring in a fourth and give her this neat little room from which to teach a small group of only twelve students, only to have her leave upon completion. I did get the best end of the bargain though. And as I was homeschooled from sixth-grade through High-School, my fourth-grade year stands out as the most enjoyable publicly-schooled experience of my life.
She taught us haiku and turned me on to the importance of journaling, we also bred hamsters. She had a pet rat that she’d periodically bring in to grace us with its presence–I forget its name. I remember when we as a class read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My friend Jared and I were several chapters ahead of the rest of the class so she let us take the rest of the day (a couple of hours–an eternity for a fourth-grader) and finish the book seated on the rear stairwell in a race to the finish. But as cool as all this might sound, the thing I remember most from my fourth grade year with Ms. Stevens was learning about homophones.
She was disciplined and strict, yet kind. Don’t you love those kinds of mentor figures! One day, I had to use the bathroom and the class had just come back from recess. With her though, there was always give and take. So she told me that if I really had to go, I’d have to do an extra-credit assignment. She proffered I write down and turn in ten homonyms. I jumped at the chance.
With twenty-six letters, our English alphabet is hard-pressed to fully represent the plethora of sounds and syllables and words needed to correspond with the numerous, precise and expressive ways that we communicate every day. This is why there’s bound to be overlap. I hear from non-native speakers that English is one of the more difficult second languages to learn. Four culprits of such collusion are elucidated as follows. And as I think that many native (English) speakers get these terms confused, I also think it best to explain how four words (that themselves describe words with varying levels of same-ness) differ in meaning:
This is like level one. A homophone is a word that’s pronounced the same as another (homo: same, phone: sound), but it doesn’t have to be spelled the same. Words like flour and flower, rite and right (and write, and wright). Chased, chaste. How ’bout metal, medal, mettle and meddle? Homophones. Pretty cool.
Homonyms are rarer but almost more important. Because there’s less that changes between the two words. Homonyms are words that are the exact same in pronunciation and also spelled identically. An example would be: plane as in, a woodworking tool used to make flat surfaces. And plane as in, airplane. Or rock as in a hard geological deposit or rock, as in music. Gotta love it. This particular one-of-the-four was what Ms. Stevens got me started on because this is probably all I was able to wrap my fourth-grade mind around.
As time progressed, I became aware through reading and conversation that homonym doesn’t sum up the spectrum of weird words with borrowed pronunciations or stolen spellings. A heteronym differs from a homonym in that it’s spelled the same as the other word but has a different pronunciation as well as meaning. Yesterday’s post was an example of using heteronyms to illustrate a concept. Live in concert. Live in concert. Pronounce live differently and you get a radically different meaning of the phrase. Whether or not concert sounds the same in either. In other words, it can be spelled the same but that’s where the similarity ends. Hetero: different, nym: name—simply put.
A homograph is unique in that the two words don’t mean the same though the spelling and pronunciation are identical. While all homographs are homophones, not all homophones are homographs, if that makes sense.
In closing, how does this apply to our life? To our “conversation” (as it’s used in the King James Version)?
About the only thing I can see as far as a parallel comes from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past…” (Ephesians 2:3)
“If so be that ye have heard Him, and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Ephesians 4:21-23, emphasis mine)
We might look the same on the outside. With the same definition and the same spelling, we might even sound the same. But Jesus truly changes us. Our origin is now of Him.
“But of Him (God the Father) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Four more words worth adding to our vocabulary.