Definition: One of two or more words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but have different meanings. Most commonly, the words have different origins and developed separately but coincidentally ended up with the same pronunciation. An example is "jerky," which can refer to something that moves abruptly or to a type of dried meat. Although the definition just given appears to be the most common, sometimes "homonym" is applied to homophones (homófonos in Spanish), two or more words that sound alike, even if they aren't spelled differently, and/or homographs (homógrafos), two or more words that are written alike, although they may not have the same pronunciation. The word is also sometimes used to refer to Spanish word pairs such as que and qué, which are spelled and pronounced the same but distinguished by an accent mark. The concept of homonyms is related but distinguished from the concept of polysemy (polisemia), which refers to the tendency of words to develop more than one meaning. In most dictionaries, homonyms are listed separately, while polysemes have a single listing. The distinction is usually one of word origin. An example is "course" in English and its Spanish equivalent, curso, which both have various meanings.
Also Known As: Homónimo in Spanish.
One common set of English homonyms is "ball," meaning a spherical object, and "ball," a type of dance. The first word comes from an Old English word (one distantly related to the Spanish word bola
), the second from Latin ballare
, to dance. The Spanish baile
, meaning a dance, comes from the same Latin word. The homonym of baile
is, of course, baile
, a type of judge, which comes from an Aragonese word (and is distantly related to the English word "bailiff").