Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Three T(w)(o)os?

I was on my laptop last night in front of the TV that we purchased instead of a bed, sitting on an old couch we found in an alley, and something dawned on me. Something strange. Something that may be earth-shattering. Something that could change our very existence.

It all began with a simple response to an unrelated comment. In my previous Lynn Canyon post, Kenneth Moore mentioned he was listening to a certain band too much lately. I responding with, "You can never listen to too much of them." Things may have been fine if I had just stopped there. Unfortunately, I followed it up with, "Ew two t(w)o(o)s in a row."

Now writing that last sentence took me a good five minutes. I guess it technically should have been two to(o)s in a row, seeing as I didn't use the number version of the word. But I was scared of becoming trapped in an infinite t(w)(o)o loop! You see I used two t(w)(o)os twice in a row. The next sentence would have had to be the same. This would continue on forever as, "Ew, two t(w)[o]os in a row." The square brackets are there because I originally had them before the "s" but upon writing this post realized the first "o" should have brackets.

What is the correct plural form of the word when referring to multiple homophonic words (same sound, different meaning) and why has this never crossed my mind before? I guess this would be a noun.  As far as I can gauge, it's a bit of a mess without any clear answers:

To & Too - To(o)s or T(o)os - Any thoughts on whether the first or second "o" should have the brackets?

To & Two - T(w)os

Too & Two - T(o)(w)os or T(w)(o)os - I think bracketed "o" first to be alphabetical.

To & Too & Two - T(w)o(o)s or T(w)(o)os or T(o)(w)os - They all start with "T" and end with "o" so I figure the 2nd or 3rd option. The 2nd is probably best because it doesn't look similar to any other words. That being said I like the bracket symmetry of the 1st.

All of this is turning into a horribly complicated mess and I'm starting to get scared. I'm sure someone has thought of this before and there must be some kind of answer. If not we'll have to petition a dictionary to include a magical all-encompassing plural form/rule for homophonic words!

I started to think a little harder and things became even more ugly. What happens when you want to refer to "there", "their" and "they're"? Is it something like this:

There & Their - The(i)r(e)s

There & They're - The(y')res

Their & They're - The(i)(y')r(e)s or The(y')(i)r(e)s

There & They're & Their - The(i)(y')r(e)s or The(y')(i)r(e)s

Now things are starting to look like some weird phonetic dialect. At least there aren't any other awful groups of words. Certainly not:

For & Four - Fo(u)rs

For & Fore - For(e)s

Four & Fore - Fo(u)r(e)s

For & Four & Fore - Fo(u)r(e)s

Here something terrible has happened! The last two both have the same pluralized spellings!!! How will people know if someone is referring to "Four & Fore" or "For & Four & Fore"? My pluralization formula has failed!

Is this some paradox that will destroy the universe? A once-in-a-lifetime world changing revelation? Something easily solved with a clear answer which my extremely limited and lazy googling cannot bring to light?

Please help. I've opened Pandora's Box and I can't close it.

Confused... Frightened...


  1. In the scentence -

    You can never listen to too much of them.

    The first 'to' refers to the word 'listen,' and the second word 'too' refers to the word 'much,'

    Believe it or not, the scentence is perfectly correct. When I was working at a magazine, we would have let it slide, although I must admit that most writers and editorswould have tried to avoid it as it is an awkward looking scentence. I say it's awkward looking, because in everyday speach it's perfectly acceptable. It's just how people talk.

    Most writers or editors would replace it with something like:

    When it come to that band, there is no such thing as too much listening.

    Does that help?

    They're & there is actually easier...

    when you say, "They're their coats." What you are actually saying is "They are their coats." Again it looks more awkward that it sounds, especially in the American South, where the two words aren't neccesarily pronounced the same. They're sounds about right, but their is sometimes proununced more like thur. That's not exactly the pronunciation, but it's close enough.

    I could go on with this little game, but I think you've probably got what I'm trying to say by now.

  2. LMAO! You've officially lost me. My brain now hurts. Hurts! I came for plants, and now I've been two to(o)s too many times! Arg!

    All that aside, I notice PoCo has more listings up in your general field. I have no clue if they are at all appropriate, but none the less...

  3. @Claude, The sentences seemed fine I just wanted to know if there was a word to referring to the noun sense of "to, too and two". As in, "That paragraph sure had a lot of t(w)(o)os in it!" Where the t(w)(o)os refers to the words (nouns) that all sound the same and are the total collection of the tos, toos, and twos in the paragraph.

    The same goes for the other two words. Is there an all encompassing noun to refer to a set of homophonic words?

    I didn't mean it as though two or three of them were in a row and you would somehow merge them.

    I mean it as a reference to the homophonic words themselves. Such as, "I didn't use enough the(i)(y's)r(e)s in the story." I want to say that I didn't use enough of all three versions of the word. Does that make sense?

    @Laura, It's a weird use of english and I'm having a hard time explaining it. I'll take a look at those postings though!

  4. It's all over my head! :) Oh my!

  5. OK... now I see what you mean.

    And I can't think of anything off hand to answer your question. Usually, you would just list them, as in... You are using too many of the homonymns to, too and two. That's the only way I've ever seen it done... However, NPR radio has a show called A Way With Words that would have a field day with this... you could submit the subject to them on-line.

  6. Oh, my... I apologize, I truly do. I did not understand the Scissor Sisters' power over you!

    And... My initial thoughts are, basically, because these are all homophones... You would never write them out. They are all spelled very distinctly--only in speech would one pluralize them, really. And then, because they sound the same, you would need not worry whether it's two t(w)os or two t(o)os--it would be known in context of the conversation. Now, if you were trying to, say, write a dialog for a book with such a discussion... Well. You're screwed. Or, you could be seed molecule to start crystallization of the supersaturated solution that is our minds waiting for an answer!!!

  7. you could be *the*... oh definite articles, how thou doth plague me!

  8. OMG! You are making my head hurt! I am a fellow college grad. Without trying to sound as a braggart, I do fancy myself as somewhat intelligent. However, I am not one to over-complicate the simple. But if you really wanna go there...it goes on and on, my friend. One, Won, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.......

  9. I know it's an odd question, I'm just really curious. Strange things bother me sometimes...


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