How to Use Homographs
Now that you have seen a few examples of homographs, let’s look at various ways we can use them intentionally! Because there are so many homographs in language, developing a play on words from a list, would be mind boggling. Culturally and historically, there are so many connections between words, sometimes the creation of a pun is even incidental. So, it would be easier to:
- Find your wordplay from a chosen topic rather than language itself. This will also sharpen your creativity to discover these connections spontaneously.
- After you have found a connection to another related topic via a homograph, expand your thoughts by asking how you can make the two-way relationship clear
- Use the homograph in such a way that it can apply to either interpretation, depending on how you look at it.
- Adapt the context so that either interpretation is possible. Context can be figured out by:
- surrounding punctuation,
- visual or audio cues
- helping words (“like,” “or”)
- words you know
- The less these context clues are available, the more ambiguity a homograph introduces to the text.
Homographs can add not only humor, but also thoughtfulness and depth to a sentence. They are featured in riddles under the same premise as the pun: the double meaning allows the reader to experience the information on another level.
When to Use Homographs
Homographs can be used to amuse and to puzzle by providing additional meaning to a statement in which both usages are correct.
This ambiguity can be intentionally played in a poem or the dialogue of a story, in order to craft a situational comedy, make an ironic statement, or introduce multiple layers of meaning. This could be instrumental in a mystery story, which often seeks to disguise its conclusion and confuse either the characters or the reader.
Inversely, you would not want to use homographs in any situation where clarity is important. Although the patrons of an academic journal likely appreciate wit in an article, a doctoral thesis is very somber in tone. If you’re describing the terms of a business proposal or scientific experiment, particularly via text alone, it’s better to not use the homograph intentionally, in case it is confusing.