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What is the mystery term in the fourth quadrant?
February 26, 2009 4:54 AM   Subscribe

The wikipedia article for homonyms does a nice job of explaining the distinction between the terms homonym, homograph, heteronym, and homophone (even tossing in a nice introduction to polysemes). The cartesian diagram depicting their qualities in four quadrants according to similarities in spelling and is particularly helpful, but there is a suspicious blank spot. What term goes in the fourth quadrant of the wikipedia homonym diagram? Is there a term that specifically describes a set of words that have different spellings, different pronunciations, and different meanings?

Antonyms would be a bad answer because it is too specific about their meanings and does not refer to the spelling or pronunciation of the words at all.
posted by mumblelard to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there a term that specifically describes a set of words that have different spellings, different pronunciations, and different meanings?

Like 'pineapple' and 'blitzkrieg'?

I just call those 'different words.'
posted by box at 5:00 AM on February 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


Is there a term that specifically describes a set of words that have different spellings, different pronunciations, and different meanings?

No, two words only have some kind of interesting connection if they have something in common; thus, there's no special term for two words with nothing in common.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:03 AM on February 26, 2009


In the broadest sense of what you ask, wouldn't "language" describe a set of words with those characteristics?
posted by TedW at 5:04 AM on February 26, 2009


In the broadest sense of what you ask, wouldn't "language" describe a set of words with those characteristics?

"Language" is too broad - it includes homonyms et al. He wants a name for everything that isn't a homo-

Time for some sniglets!

heteronym? "Different-nym"
allelonym? "other-nym"
posted by unixrat at 5:16 AM on February 26, 2009


Independent? Orthogonal?
posted by gregoreo at 5:25 AM on February 26, 2009


A heterographic heteronym.
posted by vacapinta at 5:38 AM on February 26, 2009


The other three quadrants describe ambiguous situations created by words that have some shared characteristics but ultimately have different meanings. This ambiguity doesn't exist in the fourth quadrant, this quadrant is really a trick of perspective that makes the rest of the diagram useful. I admit that it is a slippery concept but there must be a term for words that are unambiguous and distinct in these three characteristics.
posted by mumblelard at 5:40 AM on February 26, 2009


Synonym- a word that means the same, despite being spelled differently, pronounced differently, and living in a different zip code.
posted by aswego at 6:04 AM on February 26, 2009


You're looking for a term that describes the vast majority of all random sets of two words? This is not a "slippery" concept at all, it's just a concept for which no term has been invented because no-one needs it. "Heteronym" would've been good but apparently it's already taken. If you want a term for this, it's on you to invent it. Mayne "alternym"? But it'll be a useless invention. You will never have any occasion to use a term for two words that share neither spellling nor pronunciation nor meaning. The only possible purpose for such a word would be to fill in that space in the Wikipedia chart.
posted by creasy boy at 6:11 AM on February 26, 2009


Just to be clear: your question is a little like the question, "what's the word for all those things that aren't coincidences?". There's no word for that, unless you count "normal".
posted by creasy boy at 6:22 AM on February 26, 2009


Well, I don't know if it's a useless term, it would contain the vast majority of two-word pairs but not all of them. But it's something that would come up so rarely it wouldn't need it's own word. If you just want word pairs you could say "the set of word pairs such that the words are not homonyms or homographs" and if you wanted the larger set you would say "the subset of the power set of words such that no two words are homonyms/homographs with each other"
posted by delmoi at 6:25 AM on February 26, 2009


there must be a term for words that are unambiguous and distinct in these three characteristics.

No, there musn't. There is not a single one-to-one mapping between words and concepts. It's one of the things that makes language interesting.
posted by chrisamiller at 6:45 AM on February 26, 2009


Is there a term that specifically describes a set of words that have different spellings, different pronunciations, and different meanings?

In that schema it would be the residual category of 'just' words (as in not having distinctive features of ambiguity.)

Don't tell Obama.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:53 AM on February 26, 2009


If such a term doesn't exist, and you decide you want a term, howsabout "heterosemnyms"? Different / meaning / name ?
posted by girlpublisher at 7:39 AM on February 26, 2009


In honor of Dipset, I think we should call them no-homos.
posted by box at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2009


aswego: "Synonym- a word that means the same, despite being spelled differently, pronounced differently, and living in a different zip code."

I think aswego nailed it.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:53 AM on February 26, 2009


Oooh, pick 'allelonym', pick 'allelonym'!
posted by unixrat at 7:54 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Word.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:01 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a little like asking what is "outside" of a Venn diagram. It's assumed that the diagram itself is representing a subset of the "everything" set.
posted by odinsdream at 8:24 AM on February 26, 2009


Omniheteronymophonographs.
posted by Caviar at 9:23 AM on February 26, 2009


"All the rest".
posted by buzzv at 10:05 AM on February 26, 2009


I initially thought this question was stupid.
I still do.

But fine, I'll think about it:

I just call those 'different words.'
no cause that includes as subsets the other three quadrants.

Synonym
also no cause in that table, there is no "Meaning" axis. All quadrants are set to the default Meaning=Different.

Actually what makes two words distinct is not so clear. So a word that has two spellings but the same pronunciation and meaning is generally considered one word. Is there a word for that? In general it looks like

If [ (Meaning=Same) & ( (Pronunciation=Same) or (Spelling=Same) ) ], then its the same word.

No?
posted by sidr at 10:30 AM on February 26, 2009


Synonym- a word that means the same, despite being spelled differently, pronounced differently, and living in a different zip code.

Nope. The poster asked about words with "different spellings, different pronunciations, and different meanings." Definitely not synonyms.
posted by decathecting at 10:31 AM on February 26, 2009


I admit that it is a slippery concept but there must be a term for words that are unambiguous and distinct in these three characteristics.

What, you think there "must be a term" for every single concept you can imagine? Three-legged unicorns with halitosis and a yen for fascist paraphernalia—what's the word for them? There must be a word!

This thread asks a question for which there is no conceivable answer and should be deleted as chatfilter.
posted by languagehat at 11:05 AM on February 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


This thread asks a question for which there is no conceivable answer and should be deleted as chatfilter.

A language that cannot grow to accommodate new ideas is a dead language.

Psst, allelonym!
posted by unixrat at 11:57 AM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I accept the criticisms of the "must" comment. In place of "must", please insert "I would dearly love for there to be a word that describes this concept and a philosopher or linguist in the audience that knows what it is so that I can read more about others thoughts about this concept or this little tiny itch in the back of my brain will be there for a long time."

I am surprised that this innocent and very specific question has been designated chatfodder by languagehat of all people. As a concept, it was logically implied by a diagram that otherwise helpfully clarifies some terms that have a history of misunderstanding. I certainly did not think that I was asking a "what is your favorite color" type of question.

It was a question that I discussed with others, thought about, researched and decided to expose to a larger audience.

It is not outside the venn diagram. It is a subset of all word pairs and does not include all words as some have suggested. The ways in which language can be ambiguous or confusing are often discussed as significant to our understanding of the world and our communication with others. This concept is an interesting counterpoint to discussions of whether my "blue" is the same as your "blue". We could quickly agree that my "pineapple" is not the same as your "running".

Unixrat: Allelonym has already been proposed for use within the International Code for Zoological Nomenclature with a use distinct from the one described here. Thank you for your suggestion though.

I am going to go with the unwieldy but descriptive "heterographic heteronym" for now.
posted by mumblelard at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2009


Having an idea of the hoped for utility of the term would be helpful. What is going to help you assert/demonstrate/analyze/criticize?

It seems to me that the question is getting at the notion that meaning in language is constituted by difference, i.e. Saussure. Thus, the resistance might have something to do with the perceived attempt to substitute an ultimately empty neologism for a rather complex (and much expanded upon) model of language.

Working under that kind of model, the renewed insistence upon invention of a term takes on a certain ironic quality (although you're hardly the first to fall into that trap, and it's probably unavoidable in some contexts.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:07 PM on February 26, 2009


maybe it'll work this time: i.e. Saussure
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2009


Snuffleupagus: I was hoping to find an established term and did not set out to create an "ultimately empty neologism." Thank you for the reference, I have added it to my holds list at the library.

As a follow up on the ultimately empty neologism and based on this thread, I believe the term should be "heteronym" constructed from Babylonian roots.

Have a nice evening everyone. Thank you for your time.
posted by mumblelard at 1:53 PM on February 26, 2009


Yeah, you're right, I was unnecessarily harsh. (Sorry, in a bad mood today, just discovered I owe Uncle Sam money.) The original question is not chatfilter, but it seems bizarre to me to suppose that there would be "a term that specifically describes a set of words that have different spellings, different pronunciations, and different meanings." Why would such a term exist? What would be the use for it? Words do not exist because there is a logical slot for them in a Venn diagram, they exist because people need to talk about something. This is not something people talk about. "The class of all objects that do not fall into classes X, Y, and Z" is a topic for computers, not human language.
posted by languagehat at 3:26 PM on February 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is all good and many good things came out of it. "Ultimately Empty Neologism" is currently leading the rankings for proposed The Strokes cover band names.
posted by mumblelard at 4:01 PM on February 26, 2009


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