Tuesday Trivia

Words About Words

You all are like grammar ninjas. It’s pretty cool.  The first half of the quiz I remember from school, but the second half I learned after one of my kids asked, “What do you call words that are spelled the same, but sound different?” I had no clue, so we turned to our good friend Google.  Wikipedia turned up an awesome Venn diagram that answered all our questions about words about words.

1.  Onomatopoeia – words that sound like what they describe, like “bang!”

2.  Ellipses – three periods in a row, used to indicate missing words in a quote, a long pause or a sentence that trails off without a definite end.

3.  An oxymoron – two seemingly contradictory adjectives used together, like jumbo shrimp.

4.  Malapropism – when you accidentally use a word that changes your statement or question into something funny.  (Sorry, there is no elegant way to describe this.)  Many Freudian slips are also malapropisms.

5.  Synonyms – different words with similar meanings.

6.  Antonyms – opposites, like “up” and “down.”

7.  Heterographs – words that sound the same, but have different meanings and different spellings, like there/their/they’re.

8.  Heteronyms – words that are spelled the same, but sound different and have different meanings, i.e. wind (like a breeze) and wind (the long and winding road).

9.  Homophones – words that sound the same, but have different meanings, they may or may not be spelled the same (heterographs are a subset of homophones) – i.e. winding a clock and a winding road.

10.  Capitonyms – these are words that have a different meaning if they are capitalized, like August the month and august, meaning majestic.

11.  Homonyms – same pronunciation, same spelling, different meaning (the other subset of homophones), like rose (flower) and rose (got up).

12.  Homographs – same spelling, different meaning, may or may not be pronounced the same. (Just like homophones are split into homonyms and heterographs, homographs are split into heteronyms and homonyms.)

Bonus – A gerund – I’ll be honest, I put this in because I have never known what the heck a gerund is.  According to PoM, our resident expert, “A gerund is the form of a verb, ending in -ing, that acts as a noun. All gerunds end in -ing, but not all words ending in -ing are gerunds. Sometimes they’re present participles.”

Confused by all the -nyms, -graphs and -phones?  Here’s the handy Venn diagram from Wikipedia:

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18 replies on “Words About Words”

See, I would say that it is, because “baking” functions as a direct object of the verb “like.” The gerund doesn’t have to be an actual noun (in the “this is a tangible thing” sense), it just has to function as a noun in relation to the other verbs in the clause.

I think I must concede the point. I hangs on how we define the function of ‘baking’ in the sentence. If the verb was clearly an auxilliary/modal then the participle form would be acting as a verb. ‘Like’ is not such a verb. Rather it is a conceptual contraction: “I like activities.” “What activities?” “Running, baking, playing, etc.”, where the participle is a stand in for the idea set [activity = object].

Haha. pileofmonkeys is correct. The verb in your sentence is “are frightening,” where “me” is the object of “you two.” Ask yourself this: what are you two doing? Are you two “are”? Without a main verb (frighten) the action makes no sense.

But to make it even more confusing, if you had simply said “You two are frightening,” then “frightening” would be a gerund because it is acting as an adjective (it modifies “you two”).

Oy. “Frightening” used as an adjective is a participle. “Frightening” as a gerund rarely happens, except for me and my friends when we work at the haunted house. “Frightening is one of my favorite things to do at Halloween.” (although I usually use “scaring” or “haunting”) and since you can say that it implies frightening or scaring OTHERS, it might still be a participle modifying the people who get scared.

Good Gerunds:

Swimming is my favorite sport.
She likes public speaking.

So, question: Frosting. Gerund? or noun in its own right?

Gerunds, also known as the worst form of verbage in the world. Not only do I scour my writing for them but I am painfully aware of it when I speak (mostly when I teach, nothing kills command like gerunds. Nothing.).

Gerunds lack commitment. They are weak and pathetic. And passive. And stinky. Here ends my tirade against gerunds.

I like the gerund…in other languages. In Tamil, for example, gerunds are a necessary form used in many applications. They sound pretty good, and they make rhyming easy(ish).

In English, however, I tend to agree with you. They seem lazy. I would say, though, that the passive voice – used incorrectly – kills command more.

Ellipses – three periods in a row, used to indicate missing words in a quote, a long pause or a sentence that trails off without a definite end.

THREE periods, people. Three. Not four or nine or six kajillion. Three. Also, ellipses have specific nitpicky spacing, too, but as long as you stick to three, I’m OK.


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