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Oronyms and Homophones

Oronyms (or homophones) are words which sound the same. Generally the word homophone is used to describe one of a pair or group of words that have the same sound (like prince and prints; allowed and aloud), whilst oronyms are normally strings of words (phrases) such as iced ink and I stink.

Psycholinguist Steven Pinker defines oronyms in his bestselling popular linguistics book The Language Instinct:

[In speech] it is impossible to tell where one word ends and the next begins. The seamlessness of speech is... apparent in "oronyms," strings of sound that can be carved into words in two different ways:

  • The good can decay many ways.
    The good candy came anyways.
  • The stuffy nose can lead to problems.
    The stuff he knows can lead to problems.
  • Some others I've seen.
    Some mothers I've seen.

Some are discovered inadvertently by teachers reading their students' term papers and homework assignments:

  • Jose can you see by the donzerly light?
    [Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light?]
  • It's a doggy-dog world.
    [It's a dog-eat-dog world.]
  • Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise.
    [Eugene O'Neill won a Pulitzer Prize.]
Here are some more phrases that sound the same:

  • A politician's fate often hangs in a [delicate / delegate] balance.
  • Any [grey day / grade A] would be bad news for one professor I know.
  • I don't know how [mature / much your] people enjoy such a show.
  • I have [known oceans / no notions] that you yourself couldn't imagine.
  • If you listen you can hear the [night rain / night train].
  • I'm taking [a nice / an ice] cold shower.
  • Reading in the library is sometimes [allowed / aloud].
  • That's the [biggest hurdle / biggest turtle] I've ever seen!
  • [White shoes: / Why choose] the trademark of Pat Boone?
  • You'd be surprised to see a [mint spy / mince pie] in your bank.

Oronym (Homophone) Poetry

There is a well-known poem called Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer (I Have a Spelling Checker) that written almost entirely with homophones. It could be considered an oronym poem:

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it's weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

                        (Sauce unknown)

An Oronym Story – Ladle Rat Rotten Hut

Even more impressive in length is the following oronym story. It is the tale of Little Red Riding Hood... but not the famous version; this one is constructed entirely from homophones: Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. This curious version was written in 1940 by a professor of French named H. L. Chace. He wanted to show his students that intonation is an integral part of the meaning of language. Try reading it out loud (best in the accent of Southern/Central USA)!

Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

Wan moaning, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut's murder colder inset. "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter an shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tutor cordage offer groinmurder hoe lifts honor udder site offer florist. Shaker lake! Dun stopper laundry wrote! Dun stopper peck floors! Dun daily-doily inner florist, an yonder nor sorghum-stenches, dun stopper torque wet strainers!"

"Hoe-cake, murder," resplendent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, an tickle ladle basking an stuttered oft. Honor wrote tutor cordage offer groin-murder, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut mitten anomalous woof. "Wail, wail, wail!" set disk wicket woof, "Evanescent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut! Wares are putty ladle gull goring wizard ladle basking?"

"Armor goring tumor groin-murder's," reprisal ladle gull. "Grammar's seeking bet. Armor ticking arson burden barter an shirker cockles."

"O hoe! Heifer gnats woke," setter wicket woof, butter taught tomb shelf, "Oil tickle shirt court tutor cordage offer groin-murder. Oil ketchup wetter letter, an den - O bore!"

Soda wicket woof tucker shirt court, an whinney retched a cordage offer groin-murder, picked inner windrow, an sore debtor pore oil worming worse lion inner bet. En inner flesh, disk abdominal woof lipped honor bet, paunched honor pore oil worming, an garbled erupt. Den disk ratchet ammonol pot honor groin-murder's nut cup an gnat-gun, any curdled ope inner bet.

Inner ladle wile, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut a raft attar cordage, an ranker dough ball. "Comb ink, sweat hard," setter wicket woof, disgracing is verse. Ladle Rat Rotten Hut entity betrum an stud buyer groin~murder's bet.

"O Grammar!" crater ladle gull historically, "Water bag icer gut! A nervous sausage bag ice!"

"Battered lucky chew whiff, sweat hard," setter bloat-Thursday woof, wetter wicket small honors phase.

"O Grammar, water bag noise! A nervous sore suture anomolous prognosis!"

"Battered small your whiff, doling," whiskered dole woof, ants mouse worse waddling.

"O Grammar, water bag mouser gut! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!"

Daze worry on-forger-nut ladle gull's lest warts. Oil offer sodden, caking offer carvers an sprinkling otter bet, disk hoard hoarded woof lipped own pore Ladle Rat Rotten Hut an garbled erupt.

Mural: Yonder nor sorghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers.

Tea And

Oronyms and Mondegreens

On a similar theme to oronyms are mondegreens. Why not visit the mondegreens page of our malapropisms section to find out more?

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