A wordy column full of words about words

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From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren

Roger VanHaren

I’ve had an almost lifelong fascination with words. Over the years, I’ve written about words fairly often, but not lately. Whenever I have done so, I have always received positive feedback. So here for your edification is a column about words! Think positive!
Think of all the “onym” words you know and use. Don’t they all have something to do with words? What are synonyms? Words with similar meanings. Antonyms? Words which are opposite, or “anti.” Acronyms? Words like radar or scuba; they’re words made up of the first letters of a series of words and pronounced as one word. “Radar” is for radio detection and ranging. “Scuba” is for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
So you already know quite a bit about words. But I wonder, how many of you know about some of the “onym” words below?
Do you know what “nymonyms” are? Nymonyms are words about words; “onym” is a Greek root meaning “word.” So a “nymonym” is a word-word, right? If you aren’t into words, you might as well stop reading right now, cuz here we go again: a ride through Vocabulary-land!
Homonyms are two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning (as the noun quail and the verb quail). There are three kinds of homonyms: (1) the ones that look alike and sound alike but have different meanings because they have different etymologies, such as lie and lie; (2) the ones that sound alike but do not look alike – sometimes called “homophones,” such as pale and pail; and (3) the ones that look alike but do not sound alike – sometimes called “homographs,” such as minute (time) and minute (tiny).
An ananym is a name written backwards. Regor Nerah Nav is an ananym of my name. Careful, now. Don’t confuse an ananym with an anonym, which is another word for pseudonym! I suppose my ananym could be my anonym if I decided to use Regor as my pseudonym. Getting confused yet?
An anatonym is a cool thing. It refers to a part of the body that is used as a verb: “to face the music,” “to hand the baton,” “to eye the target,” “to toe the line,” “to shoulder the load.” Cool, huh?
An autonym is one’s own name. An aptronym is name that matches its owner’s occupation or character. My friend Dean Lenz is an optometrist. Get it? “Dr. Lenz.” One of my favorite fictional names is “Penny Overdue,” a librarian.
A contronym is a word that is its own opposite. “Overlook” and “look over” are contronyms. A backronym or bacronym is a word interpreted as an acronym that was not originally intended to be one. The computer language called BASIC is an example. (Marni, are you with me?) It was intended to be Basic because it was “basic.” Beginners had to know BASIC in order to do simple programming. But then someone decided that BASIC should be “Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.”
This is a case of what linguists sometimes call “back formation.” Backronym, see?
A demonym is a place name-based label that describes a resident of a particular city, territory or country. “Wisconsinite” is a demonym – from the same root as demographic. It doesn’t have anything to do with demons! An ethonym is the name of a people or ethnic group, such as Egyptians.
Patronyms are names derived from the name of father or an ancestor — such as Jackson (son of Jack) or Hanson (son of Hans). A polyonym is a name consisting of several words, such as King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, or Prince Edward Island. A toponym is a name derived from a place name, such as “VanHaren” (“van” is “from,” “Haren” comes from “Hoorn,” a town in Holland).
I love words and words about words. I’m a logophile. And some might say I suffer from logorrhea (that’s not a side effect of my chemotherapy; it means “excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness.”) Me? Nah! I’m a verbivore, but I’m not verbose!

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.