September 8, 2008

Fun with homophones

English is so flexible, it can be bent until it breaks.

One common breakage occurs when various homophones—words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things—have to be written down. Hair/hare, there/their … you get the idea.

People often know what to say, and if they said it, there would be no problem. But if they write it down, and put the wrong spelling, it's an error.

Most recently, I got a congratulatory message from a co-worker that said "yea."

I'm fairly certain she meant "yay," because she finished with an exclamation point instead of "…though I walk through the valley…"

Yea = adv. yes (archaic)
Yay = interj. an exclamation of approval.

These are related, obviously, since they both indicate approval. But the first is formal, and only connotes agreement or affirmation. The second connotes excitement. Cheerleaders do not jump in the air and yell "yea, team." They yell "yay, team!"

A related word, "yeah," is pronounced differently but also connotes agreement.

Yeah, grammar geeks really do fret over whether you mean yay! or yea.

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