That’s not what I meant!

By Michael Kofi Ngongi

A few weeks ago, a colleague circulated an email sharing the first edition of a new report. The report was compelling. It contained an array of facts and figures related to my unit’s work that were not only interesting but useful as well. However, as the sender mentioned it was a biweekly report, I was left with a doubt: would the report be produced twice a week or every other week?

That brings us to today’s topic: homographs. Homographs are words with identical spelling but with different meanings. Biweekly is an example; bimonthly is another. English has a multitude of such words; they pop up everywhere and one can only wonder why. For example, crane is either a long-legged bird or a machine used for moving heavy objects. Bat is either a small flying mammal or a piece of sporting equipment. Pen is a doozy; it’s a writing instrument, an enclosure for animals and can even take the form of a female swan. Take your pick.

Of course, context helps us decode any homographs we encounter in a piece of writing. We can infer from the words that precede and follow the word palm whether we’re talking about the body part or a tree. Nevertheless, it does beg the question: how did we come to have such words? Clarity being such a fundamental part of good writing (and communication in general), you would think all words would have evolved with different spellings to avoid any potential confusion and misunderstanding. But alas…

Anyway, getting back to that biweekly report, when the second edition failed to materialize a few days later, I put on my deerstalker (think Sherlock Holmes!) and deduced this was a case of the “every other week” kind of biweekly.

Michael Kofi Ngongi is a new Canadian originally from Cameroon. He has experience in international development and is a freelance writer.

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