Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tune In To Homophones

homophone Homophone clues play on words that have the same pronunciation but differ in meaning. EARN/URN, KNOW/NO, WAIT/WEIGHT are some examples of homophones.

Homophone Clue Structure: The clue contains 3 parts:
1. Definition of the solution
2. Definition of the word that sounds like the solution
3. Homophone indicator - Signal for the presence of similar-sounding words e.g. 'we hear', ''by the sound of it'', 'orally', 'reportedly'. The homophone indicator is placed next to the secondary word.

Example: Refer to a location, reportedly (4)
Here, "Refer to" defines the solution, "location" defines the word that sounds like the solution, and "reportedly" is the homophone indicator. The answer is CITE, which sounds like SITE. (Notation: CITE{~site})

Homophone Clue Characteristics

The homophone indicator is a word/phrase that conveys the idea of sound, such as 'it is said', 'on the radio'. Homophone clues are most easily identified by the indicator; from there on you think up similar-sounding words to match the definitions.

Once you have classed the clue as a homophone type, how do you decide which of the two definitions is the solution? A good clue precludes ambiguity, so at least one of these rules would hold:

(A) The homophone indicator is placed adjacent to the secondary word, not the solution.
(B) The words are of unequal length. This is particularly important if the indicator sits in the middle of the two definitions and not at the other end of the secondary word.

Consider these clues:

Speak of that such as iron spirit (6) METTLE {~metal} – The indicator placement conveys that "that such as iron" is the secondary definition

Employ sound sheep (3) USE{~ewes} - The indicator placement does not highlight the definition, but only USE fits in as the 3-letter solution.

All clues are not so precise though; you will sometimes come across clues like:
Expressed regret orally for having been impolite (4)
The answer could as easily be RUED as RUDE, and the only way to know is to wait till the 3rd or 4th crossing letter gets filled into the grid. (Meanwhile, fill in whatever is common to both words!)

Homophones can also be used for a portion of the solution instead of the whole, such as:
A goddess reportedly intended as a diversion (9) A MUSE MENT{~meant}
Figure that reportedly ruined a point of view (9) RECT{~wrecked} ANGLE

It gets more complex when the two parts of the clue do not have the same number of words in them. For example:
Festival the solver will broadcast on the radio (4) YULE{~you'll}
Pagan God with Hebrew bread, one might say (7) JUPITER{~jew pitta}

Solve These

Try solving these homophone clues:
Plain to cater for any whim, it is said (5)
Wouldn't allow recitation of Shakespeare? (6)

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9 comments

Anonymous said...

barred {bard} eh?

what is word for the first question?

Shuchi said...

That's correct!

Hint for the other one: Think of 'plain' not as an adjective but as a noun.

raghunath said...

Plain to cater for any whim, it is said (5) PAMPA?[Pamper?]

Shuchi said...

@raghunath: You got it right.

Beezie said...

Cuff and cough don't sound the same do they? Cuff is like Buff or 'nuff, Cough is like Doff or Toff?

Huff.

Shuchi said...

@Beezie: I thought the second pronunciation [here] sounded like 'cuff', but I agree it's not a watertight example. Removed it from the post. Thanks for mentioning it.

Ramki Krishnan said...

Hi Shuchi,

Is the homophoned word to be used as-is or can it be part of the next level of wordplay?
e.g.
A mother is hugged by son, reportedly a hero (8)
A mother = PER MA
is hugged by = container ind
son, reportedly = SUN
to give SUPERMAN (a hero => def)
Does this work, or is it too indirect? Comments?
Thanks,
- Ramki.

Shuchi said...

Hi Ramki,

I tend to find partial homophones needlessly convoluted/iffy, especially in wordplay more complex than charades. But I think the device works well in your SUPERMAN example and the surface story justifies its use. It's more common, of course, to have a synonym of 'sun' in the clue instead of another word that shares its sound.

You might find this post relevant too: Partial non-word homophones.

Ramki Krishnan said...

Thanks Shuchi!

- Ramki.