Valley of the Nyms

Sometimes I think that having English as my first language is a disadvantage. I should really say my only language as, like many of my compatriots, I have failed to adequately learn another.

I attended school in Canada so learning French was compulsory. I don’t remember much of it now. I’ve also dabbled at times with Latin, German, Spanish, and Italian. Although I know some words in each, I’m in no way fluent.

Learning English as a second language though must be a nightmare. But I’ve observed that those who do are often much more knowledgeable about names for parts of speech and grammatical terms I’ve long forgotten…if I even knew them in the first place.


Reading an article in a writing magazine reminded me again of some things I don’t know about my own language. Although I’m familiar with synonyms and antonyms, I didn’t know the names of a number of other ‘nyms’.


For example, words that are spelled and pronounced identically, but have different meanings are called homonyms – as in spring, meaning a season and spring meaning coiled metal.

frog heteronym

And a heteronym is the generic term for words that have identical spellings but different meanings when pronounced differently…as in wind (blowing air) or wind (coiling something up).


And then there’s the homonym sub-category – a homophone: words that are spelled differently but sound alike and have different meanings. The example of this that comes to mind is cue and queue.

I guess this article caught my eye as it also highlighted the original meanings of the words – homo and hetero. Nowadays you hardly ever see these words without sexual added on. If the ‘s’ word isn’t there, use of these words on their own assumes that it is a reference to sexual orientation.

Homo is especially confusing as a prefix – because whereas in Greek it means ‘same’, in Latin it means ‘man’. The Greek word, hetero, does mean ‘other party’ or ‘another’, although used to prefix scientific terms, means ‘different’.

When looking up these words, I then came across another ‘nym’ – hyponym. This really confuses things. So, a hyponym is a word whose meaning is included in that of another word. One example given: spoon is a hyponym of cutlery.

This leads on to hypernym – which did give me a WTF moment as in this example: the word colour is a hypernym of red.

meme word

If anyone would like to contribute any of their favourite ‘nyms’, please do pass them along as a comment here.


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