Grammar: Capitonym

Posted September 15, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

A capitonym is a type of linguistic word play in which the same word changes its meaning (and sometimes its pronunciation) when it is capitalized and becomes a proper noun.

If you break capitonym apart:

Capit- means capital

-onym means word, name

Capitonyms are a subset under homographs (or when the capitonym is pronounced differently, it’s an heteronym), both of which are a subset under homonym (see Table 1 below).

Click here for a quick look at the differences between them -nyms, -graphs, -phone, and -semys.

Grammar Explanations is…

Job’s Job
“In August, an august patriarch
Was reading an ad in Reading, Mass.
Long-suffering Job secured a job
To polish piles of Polish brass.”

– Richard Lederer, The Word Circus

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone on an area of grammar with which you struggle or on which you can contribute more understanding.

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Capitonym
Part of Speech: Semantics, Word Play, Figure of Speech
Definition: Words that share the same spelling, but have different meanings depending upon if they’re uppercase or lowercase.
Examples:
Polish citizen of Poland polish rub something to make it smooth and shiny
John man’s name john slang for bathroom
Candy woman’s name candy sweet treat
Nice city in France nice pleasant, agreeable
Ares Greek god of war ares metric unit of area
August month august impressive
Mother form of address mother look after kindly
Chevron an oil company chevron a line or pattern in the shape of a “V”
Crown government of a country, represented by a king or queen crown a circlet for the head made of precious metals and gems
Brown a common last name brown a color

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Resources

Reba’s Chiller introduced me to capitonyms.

Manik Joshi’s Dictionary of English Capitonyms: Vocabulary Building is available in paperback or eBook and is a fascinating listing of all sorts of capitonyms. Joshi reminds the reader that deciding upon which side a capitonym falls will depend upon context. Even reading the description on Goodreads gives a pretty good idea…and gets me curious to read it!

An entry in Wikipedia on “Capitonyms“.

Pinterest Photo Credits:

“Flag Map of China & Taiwan” is DrRandomFactor‘s own work [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons; the covered vegetable dish is my own bit of china.


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