Homophones – when puns become dangerous
Yesterday was Pi Day but Oxford Dictionaries were concerned that some people might be tucking into their pi, rather than getting their calculators out.
Now, I love a good pun. We’re blessed to have a language stuffed full of homophones, which gives us the basis of this wonderful form of humour. They can be clever and witty; after all, a good pun is its own reword. Or they can be downright dreadful: a particularly memorable family Sunday lunch of monkfish curry was marked by an ex-boyfriend of mine asking if anyone could pass the nun bread, which of course induced a collective groan.
But homophones have a dangerous side: in the wrong context they can trip up the unwary proofreader. And they won’t get picked up by a spell-checker either because the word will be spelled correctly, just in the wrong context. Take, for example:
- The principle aim of this document.
- They all took off there shoes.
- You’re results are as follows.
- The principal aim of this document.
- They all took off their shoes.
- Your results are as follows.