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Apr 28, 2014
This week's theme
Homonyms

This week's words
quiff
gird
mew
feral
bole

Tintin
Tintin, with his trademark quiff
Art: Hergé

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Having a character meet his double is a plot device in fiction, but we have such doppelgangers in language as well. We call such words homonyms. A homonym is a word that has the same spelling and pronunciation as another word, but a different meaning.

A great example of a homonym is the word sound, which is really four different words under the same spelling and pronunciation:

  • sound (what you hear), from Latin sonus (sound)
  • sound (in good shape), from Old English gesund (sound, safe)
  • sound (to measure), from Old French sonder (to plumb)
  • sound (a narrow passage of water), from Old Norse sund (swimming, strait)
Homonyms typically start out as two very different words with different spellings. After centuries of wear and tear, they get smoothed into lookalikes, that is, having the same spelling.

This week we'll feature five words, each of which has homonyms.

quiff

PRONUNCIATION:
(kwif)

MEANING:
noun:
1. A tuft of hair brushed up above the forehead.
2. A woman considered as promiscuous.

ETYMOLOGY:
For 1: Origin uncertain, perhaps from coif. Earliest documented use: 1890.
For 2: Origin unknown. Earliest documented use: 1923.

USAGE:
"Posters of the intrepid boy reporter with the quiff and funny pants plastered the city."
Claire Rosemberg; Spielberg 'Brings Tintin Home' Hollywood-Style; Agence France Presse (Paris); Oct 22, 2011.

"A certain party got the quiff pregnant."
William Deverell; The Dance of Shiva; ECW Press; 2004.

See more usage examples of quiff in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
There is a rumor going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist. -Terry Pratchett, novelist (b. 1948)

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