Tuesday 31 July 2012

Partial non-word homophones

partial-homophones-nonwords Even the simplest of homophones are open to question due to accent differences. Things get more contentious with clues that split the answer into fragments and serve only one of those fragments as a homophone.

For example:

FT 13788 (Redshank): Russian boss doesn’t start split, say, using scorn (7) SARCASM
[t]SAR (Russian boss, without start) CASM ~chasm (split)

The second part of the answer [CASM] has been clued as a homophone, but that part is not a dictionary word by itself.

Are non-word homophone clues fair?

They're certainly accepted by the major UK crosswords, including the Times.

Solvers' reactions are mixed, though. Such clues can be tricky to solve as the intended spelling/pronunciation of a non-word is not fixed.

Further complexity is added when the pronunciation of the homophonic fragment is different from its pronunciation in the full answer.

FT 13638 (Loroso): West Indian batsman said, of life, that playing the game leads to natural selection (8,2,3,7) SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
SURVIV (sounds like Sir Viv – West Indian batsman)  (OF LIFE THAT)* TEST (game). Here, SURVIV is a homophone of 'Sir Viv', but SURVIV in SURVIVAL does not sound like 'Sir Viv'.

In general, clue-writing contests appear to be critical of clues using non-word homophones.

An interesting comment by Roger Phillips while judging a Times clue-writing contest for the word BERSERK:

Some clue used the partial homophones “bursar” and “burrs” for the BERSER and BERS parts of the answer respectively. Since these are not words themselves, they have no established pronunciation, so I compared the alleged homophones with the relevant part of BERSERK (in either of its two pronunciations). In both cases, the first vowel sound isn’t a perfect match, being a stressed “eu” (as in French “deux”) in the two candidates but an unstressed schwa in “berserk”.

What do you think of partial non-word homophone clues?

Solve These

FT 14029 (Loroso): Bill reportedly sick during party, a minor faux pas (10) P_______L_
Times 24964: Test some articulated with hesitation for several years (9) T__E_____
Times 24023: Child left men with lover reportedly (6) O_____

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Chesterley said...

Partial homophones are extremely rare in the U.S. If I came across one, I'd want the substitution to be an actual word, especially if the letter sequence had a different pronunciation in the solution. I'd grudgingly be OK with a non-word that sounded like its charade counterpart, as long as the spelling and pronunciation paired together intuitively as a nonce word (e.g., I wouldn't want "talk of whim" to clue the WOM in "women"). I avoid partial homophones in my own setting since I mainly target a U.S. audience, and also because of the vagarities you've mentioned.

Times 24023: Child left men with lover reportedly (6)
OR+PHAN (fan hom.)

Anonymous said...

TRIENNIUM ~TRY ANY (=test some) UM
ORPHAN OR(=men) PHAN (~fan=lover)

The examples clearly illustrate your premise.

Venkatesh said...

1) ~pecker {PECCA}{D(ILL)O}
2) ~try any (TRI)(ENNI)(UM)
3) (OR)(PHAN) ~fan

anax said...

Great post as ever Shuchi, and many thanks for including a couple of my clues.

Yes, it’s an interesting subject, and your comment “Solvers’ reactions are mixed” is telling because, really, that’s what it’s all about. Fairness aside, we can say the same about many cryptic devices; some hate cryptic definitions, some love them, some see anagrams as ‘weak’, others welcome them – the list goes on.

These partial homophones should perhaps not be called homophones at all – maybe we’re better to think of them merely as puns and, in the best tradition, it’s often the case that the more groan-inducing the pun the funnier it is. The daily concise puzzles in the Telegraph and Independent feature puns formed by the first two or three across answers. In the Independent they tend to be quite accurate (more like homophones, actually) while the Telegraph ones can be tortured and, as a result, hilarious.

It seems fitting that – if these concise gimmicks are so enjoyable – cryptic setters should be allowed to use them. In the case of the FT 14029 example the joke is fairly weak, but the ‘doh!’ moment invited by the Sir Viv pun is one that probably caused more pleasure than pain. For my part, the link between the overall def and the potential for the pun (natural selection & a cricketing reference) was too inviting to ignore – my only regret, in fact, was the repetition of ‘of’ in clue and answer, although it was the only way to carry the story through.

The note about the pronunciation difference is interesting. Logically, you are absolutely right; however, there doesn’t appear to be a specific rule in crosswordland about maintaining pronunciation if we elect to use a homophone/pun. Perhaps there should be! Or maybe not…

Ultimately, of course, the editor will decide if a trick is acceptable. You’d be amazed how often setters ‘take a punt’ and see if a questionable (but usually very enjoyable) device gets the nod, and it’s a judgment call on both sides.