When I was in junior high some kid got a huge laugh out of handing me a note and telling me to mouth the words written on it to a boy across the classroom. The words were "olive juice." Little did he know.

From the root homos meaning same and morph meaning shape, homomorphs are words or word phrases that do not sound the same when spoken, but are produced by similar shapes of the mouth.

Some surprising examples:
(Try one of a pair on a friend and see if they can guess the actual word you're mouthing.)

  • Maid - Paint
  • Choose - Shoes
  • Bite - Mind
  • Muscle - Puzzle
  • Drug - Truck
  • Hat - Ant

The differences in the words are often a combination of voiced-versus-unvoiced consonants (compare bear and pear, whose only difference is the voicing of the first phoneme) and hidden consonants such as the n in ant, which rolls off of the soft palette and is not readily visible from the outside.

Homomorphs with ambiguous contexts are particularly vexing problems for deaf listeners trying to lip read: "Now that's silly. Why should I run if there's a pear heading this way?"

Post-text: This word has an alternate meaning in mathematics, but I'll be damned if I can figure what any of the "explanatory" texts mean. I also found one citation online that lazily referenced heteroradical homonyms as homomorphs, but that's really an imporoper usage, as the author readily admits.

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