Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Forget the Fockers. Meet the Homos.

The English language has such an abundance of vocabulary that it’s literally running out of sounds and ways to spell words. Those who speak English as a second language are often  astonished by the number of words that sound and look almost exactly the same, such as hair, heir, air and hare.

Everyone knows that when a pirate sees treasure on the high seas he wants to seize it.

Can you make sense of this sentence? After a number of injections my jaw got number.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words. A further quarter-million technical and scientific terms are uncatalogued. German has a vocabulary of about 185,000 and French fewer than 100,000. Personally, I tttthhhhink English is starting to run out of letters of the alphabet and ways you can twist your tongue and huff and blow without spraying saliva in all directions. These words that duplicate spelling and sound are members of the Homo family - a rather confusing and incestuous clan.

Let’s start with homonyms: words that have the same spelling and the same or similar pronunciations, but different meanings.

A bear (the animal) can bear (tolerate) very cold temperatures.

If you want to speak English well, you must place more accent on the accent.

I bought a suit, but my wife says it doesn’t suit me.

It was a fair price for a ticket to the fair according to my fair-haired friend.

Farmers produce produce.

I refuse your refuse.

Lost? Ready to leave this page? No, no… not before you meet the homophones: words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings.

Despite his sore eyes he saw the eagle soar in the sky above.

Doug felt sweat pour from every pore.

I eat chilli because it’s so chilly in Chile.

You need to knead the dough for 15 minutes.

She gave them a 50 cent piece and they sent her the scent by post.

The queen was thrown from her throne during the earthquake.

 ‘Mine is a long and sad tale!' said the Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing.'It is a long tail, certainly,' said Alice, looking down with wonder at the Mouse's tail; 'but why do you call it sad?'" - (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

 Are you still there/their/they’re/ in front of your screen? It’s either a miracle or you are unconscious. Time to shake hands with the homographs: words that are the spelt the same, but have different pronunciations and meanings.

I learned about homographs from a learned man.

My son moped around on his moped.

The doctor wound the bandage around the wound.

My bow fell out of my hair during my bow. Very embarrassing!

What does a buck do to his does?

If your head it starting to spin, breathe deeply and scroll down. I will leave you in peace, (hopefully one piece) in a moment. Here are few puns or wordplays with homonyms:

The man who fell into an upholstery machine has fully recovered.

Every calendar’s days are numbered.

He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.

The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

A thief fell and broke his leg in wet cement. He became a hardened criminal

Finally, some puns based on homophones: words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings:

A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tyred. (too tired)

With her marriage she got a new name and a dress. (address)

Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I’ll show you A-flat minor.

When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.

Those who jump off a Paris bridge are in Seine.

Once you’ve seen one shopping center you’ve seen a mall.

Marathon runners with bad footwear suffer the agony of defeat.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.

I’ll get my hat. But before I do, remember to always pay your exorcist, or you will be repossessed.

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