Friday, October 17, 2008

Set Phasers on Kill

Today, children, we take up the subject of homonyms.

What's that, Johnny? No, no, those aren't words used to describe queers. They are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently, and can have different meanings. Like, "to" and "two," or "see," and "sea." They are words that make developing voxware for your computer an interesting challenge.

Some authorities also include words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings, such as "pole," and "pole," or spelled alike but pronounced differently and with different meanings, such as "read," and "read." Johnny can pole a raft, on his way to visit his friend Herumin the Pole. Or, Johnny can read his assignment or Johnny has already read his assignment, which, as we all know, is wishful thinking, because Johnny is more likely to sprout wings and fly than do his fracking homework ...

But never mind that. Back to the subject at hand.

Today's words are "phase," and "faze." Just yesterday, I saw a book in which the writer, editor, and copy editor allowed one of these homonyms to slip by. Shame on them.

"Phase," has to do with a period of time, or a stage of development. Such as "phase of the moon," or what teenagers do when their parents are desperate to try and explain their foolish behavior. "It's just a phase she's going through." (Please, God!)

"Faze," means to affect something or somebody, usually negatively. "The sight of the gun pointed at him didn't faze Biff." Use of the term "phased," would be incorrect here -- unless, of course, the gun was in Captain Kirk's hand and he missed the shot. In which case Biff could be both "unfazed," and "unphased ..."

Writers sometimes mistake one of these words for the other.

They should knot do this ...


Anonymous said...

X-Men added a meaning with its Kitty Pryde character who could "phase" through walls, if I remember those comics correctly, but I'm not sure if that usage ever made it into the general population.

So, in her rebellious phase, Kitty Pryde phased through the wall, picked up the phaser and shot Wolverine, who was unfazed ... or something like that.

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

I think the justification for using "phase" as a verb was that Kitty could somehow make the matter of which she was composed go "out of phase" with other solid matter, eg. walls.

Or maybe they just used it 'cause it sounded sort of like "fade" but more sci-fi-ish. In any case, anon's construction is correct if you accept the Marvel coinage.

There was a Calvin&Hobbs Sunday strip where Calvin was being shot at (in his "Spaceman Spiff" persona) and referred to himself as being "unphazed".

Noneya said...

Don't mean to pick nits since I really enjoy your blog, but I don't think homonyms are what you meant.

Homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently.

Homonyms are spelled alike, sound alike but have different meanings.

Thank you for a blog that always leaves me thinking.