Put up or shut up

On homonyms, heteronyms and the use of the word ‘up’

March 12, 2010 20:58
3 minute read.

ship 58. (photo credit: .)


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This column is going to be a humdinger. Yessirree. Homonyms are words that have the same spellings or pronunciations, but have different meanings. Homonyms, just to make this topic more difficult, have the same spellings but are pronounced differently and have different
meanings. You will have to pronounce all of these words aloud to gain fluency and having a dictionary handy for referral is not discouraged.

You think English is easy? Work this lesson through to the end and you will be (partially) a word master indeed. Your brain is going to get a workout with this lesson. I’m sure you have encountered some of these pesky words that can be so confusing; please feel free to send
additional samples to me.

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The city dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.


6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to
present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.

11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13. They were too close to the door to close it.

14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer.

16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

How are you doing? Here are some more English puzzles: There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word in the English language, and that word is “up.” Up means upward toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake up? At a meeting, why does a topic come up? Why do we speak up and why are the officers up for election and why is it up to the secretary to write up the report? We call up our friends. And we brighten up a room, polish up the silver,
warm up the leftovers, and clean up the kitchen. We lock up the house while some fellow fixes up the car.

At other times the little word has very special meaning: People stir up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite and think up excuses. Are you fed up yet? We dress up. A drain must be opened up and we close up at night. We can be pretty mixed up about up! Up takes
up to a page of the dictionary. If you’re up to it, you might try building up a list of the many ways up can be used. It will take up a lot of your time, so don’t give up.

When it rains, we say it is clouding up. When the sun shines, we say it’s clearing up. Things dry up. You can mess things up. I’ll wrap it up because my time is up. Don’t you wish I’d shut up? Now it’s up to you to add to the list. Whew, I’m fed up.

The writer is an author, teacher and body language expert living in the US.

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