Karen’s Conundrum – On the Road to Homonymy

I set forth this week to gather facts and tidbits about the world of homonyms, homophones, and homographs to share with you. Before finding the homonymic state I sought, two words I uttered to a friend ended up sending me on a detour down a path I traveled only a few weeks ago. So, while I promise you that we will get back on the Road to Homonymy (although it will take another post to complete that journey), first pull up a seat, allow me to pour you a cup of coffee, and feel free to smirk as I tell you about my latest conundrum: The Coffee Clutch.

“Coffee is a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your older self.”

~Terry Pratchett, Thud!

Karen's Conundrum Logo

“This was a fun coffee clutch,” Newman said. “I can’t wait until …” While she continued talking, her thoughts wandered. What does that phrase mean—coffee clutch? Hmmm … where did it originate …

Okay. All right. You see where this is going. Hello, Newman! Can we say “Coffee KLATCH”?
Could one call my blunder a mondegreen (a misheard phrase)? Or is it that I committed a malaprop (mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one)? Coffee clutch is certainly a malapropism, and it could even be considered an eggcorn (misheard word(s)/phrase(s) that retain their original meanings). But with a humble and contrite heart, I will call it simply one of my personal idiotic idioms.

“Who shall I shoot? You choose. Now, listen very carefully: where’s your coffee? You’ve got coffee, haven’t you? C’mon, everyone’s got coffee! Spill the beans!”

~Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

To be absolutely correct, the word is kaffeeklatsch (noun: an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation). There are many accepted variations (coffee/kaffee, klatsch/klatch, one/two words) but coffee clutch is not one of them. <insert sigh here>

“And give me some coffee. Black as midnight on a moonless night.”

~Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

My confession is complete and you can wipe that smug look off your face. Now I am going to show you how all roads lead to Rome—I mean, Homonymy. Let’s start with the broad basics:

Prefix homo- means “same,” suffix –nym means “name,” suffix –phone pertains to sound, and suffix –graph pertains to writing/drawing.

Homonym: Words that are spelled the same, pronounced the same, but have different meanings.
Example: Clutch (grasp) vs. clutch (mechanism) vs. clutch (pocketbook/purse) vs. clutch (brood of chickens); purse (pocketbook/clutch) vs. purse (pucker)

Homophone: Words that could be spelled the same or differently, pronounced the same, and have different meanings.
Examples: carat, caret, carrot; to, two, too. Let us not forget about Rome and roam. These two are also capitonyms—oh, yes, did you really think the Road to Homonymy was going to be easy? We’ll deal with that curve in another post, along with a few other twists (heteronyms) and turns (heterophones).

NOTE: All homonyms are homophones because they all sound the same—BUT not all homophones are homonyms.

Homograph: Words that are spelled the same, pronounced differently, and have different meanings.

Examples: attribute, buffet, compound, bow—just to name a few.

“He could think in italics. Such people need watching. Preferably from a safe distance.”

~Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

Well, look at the thyme. Before eye head off for a kaffeeklatsch, hear is a chart that concisely brakes down all the homonymic tears that aisle cover with ewe in a future post.


Term Meaning Spelling Pronunciation
Homonym Different Same Same
Homograph Different Same Same or different
Homophone Different Same or different Same
Heteronym Different Same Different
Heterograph Different Different Same
Polyseme Different but related Same Same or different
Capitonym Different when
Same except for
Same or different
Synonym Same Different Different
Synophone Different Different Similar but not identical


“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
~Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


“Silence held the bubble of the world in its grip.”

~Terry Pratchett, Good Omens


All quotes were respectfully chosen in memory of a great writer, Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett (April 28, 1948 – March 12, 2015)