Homonyms and Euphrosyne

I’ve known the meaning of synonym at least since I was in the early years of secondary school. And somewhere along life’s passage, I’ve picked up antonym.

But I’ve been foggy about homonym until the other day when I checked it.

It started well. Homonym is a word that is said or spelt the same as another word but has a different meaning, for example write and right.

And the sub-categories homograph and homophone, easily identifiable as “same spelling” and “same sound”, “Minute” (time) and “minute” (record of a meeting) are therefore homographs while “new and “knew” are homophones.

Easy, peasy but then what about “heteronym” and “heterograph”. I learn that a heteronym is a homograph with a different pronunciation.  Looking back at my definitions, I see that a homograph is a word that is spelt the same but not necessarily pronounced the same. Some homographs then are heteronyms and some not.

And words that sound the same as other words, but are spelt differently and have different meanings are heterographs. At this point, my head begins to spin. What was supposed to be a quick two minute check of the meaning of a word is taking on alarming dimensions and eating up my morning work session.

I abandon the search but as it’s irritating to allow the weeds of unknowledge to flourish in a corner of my brain, I can’t resist going back for more.

Then I learn that a heterograph may also be referred to as a homophonic heterograph.

The categories interpenetrate but I’m shaky on the heteros. I also make the acquaintance of polysemy – words with the same pronunciation and spelling but with different meanings, such as mouth (rivers and facial orifice). And capitonym, a word that changes its meaning when capitalised such as Polish and polish. And that a language can be more or less heteronymic, for example, English, which is littered with heteronyms.

Having muddled through for many years accompanied just by synonyms and antonyms, I decide to let the matter rest.

I’ve also been attracted by a nineteenth century lady with the first name Euphrosyne. To start with I thought it must be biblical but the “euph” should have made me suspect a Greek origin, which proved to be the case. The name originates from Euphosyne, one of the Charities (Graces in Roman times). According to Wiki (quoting Jennifer Larsson (2007), Ancient Greek Cults), she was the goddess of good cheer, joy and mirth (merriment).

According to Hesiod, Euphrosyne had two sisters Thalia (the joyous one associated with abundance) and Aglaea (goddess of beauty, splendour and adornment), together the Charities. They are usually depicted dancing together and I have seen them often in Botticelli’s well-known painting Primavera without realising who they were.

The Greek poet Pindar states that these goddesses were created to fill the world with pleasant moments and good will. Usually the Charites attended the goddess of beauty Aphrodite.

A heavy responsibility to go through life with the name of “merriment” but perhaps more fun than being called Chastity even if harder work than Faith or Charity. These names called after personal attributes amuse me and I fantasise about people called Melancholy or Tepid (or even Schaden, the black sheep of the Freud(e) family, published under poetic licence….).

Wiki also tells us that there is an asteroid named after Euphrosyne and much more curiously a family of marine worms (I wonder why – was this the act of some researcher with impaired hearing looking for a name for a merry worm?), I’ve mislaid the source now but one of the distinctive features of this family of worms is the relative length of the notochaetal prongs. My grasp of marine worm terminology is a bit shaky and, for once, I am happy to let it be.

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