The main condition for establishing homonymy could be given by affinity or not of meaning. But even affinity is not the defining element for the distinction that interests us: if we investigate the meanings of 'belief' (conviction) and 'belief' (kitchen cabinet), the two nouns are historically connected, even if detached over time in a remarkable way, so much so that today, at a synchronic reading, there is no connection between them In reality "belief" in ancient times was said the precautionary tasting of food and drinks before they were served to an important person, who, thus, he certainly could have to believe to their harmlessness. Hence the still ancient meaning of "table set with dishes and food for use in the canteen" is a short step; another small passage leads to indicate with 'belief' also the kitchen cabinet.
The 'flask' indicates both a glass container and a failure (for example, the theatrical one). But this is not a real homonymy: a Bolognese actor from the 600s, Domenico Biancolelli, an excellent interpreter of Arlecchino, was engaged in a monologue on a flask of wine that he held in his hand; as soon as he realized that the audience was not laughing at all, he turned to the fiasco, charging him for the failure of that evening and threw it behind his shoulders and shattered it.
On the contrary, there may be the case of words that at first sight seem to have a single derivation, while their origin, in reality, is completely different. This is the case, for example, of 'filter', which, in the meanings of "filtering device" and "magic drink", hides completely different origins: [fr. All filter brewing methods., of orig. germ.] and [vc. learned lat. 'phîltru (m)', from gr. 'phíltron', from 'philéo', "I love", because the filter should have aroused love]. It is still the case of 'accòrdio' ("species of ancient organ") and "accordìo" (prolonged tuning of musical instruments): in reality there is no sign of harmony in the "accòrdio", which takes its name from that of the its inventor, the German Akkordion.
Some scholars, such as John Lyons, examining the phenomenon of ambiguity occurring in language and due to the polyvalence of certain words that refer to more differentiated meanings, consider polysemy an unavoidable element of efficiency and economy in the functioning of the language and instead judge the homonymy a casual fact, without advantages and, in some cases, even an element of misunderstanding and disturbance of communication. By reintroducing the historical perspective and observing the confluence of two different original words in a single signifier, he even ended up talking about a trivial "path accident" John Lyons (Linguistic lessons, Laterza, Bari, 1982).
The theme of expressive clarity is, in fact, particularly important for argumentation techniques; the same ancient rhetoricians, moreover, were willing if ever to grant liberties in this sense only to poetry, which by its very multifaceted nature can derive much of its charm from the obscurity of language; an obscurity / ambiguity, which, indeed, can become a real mark of poetry with respect to practical communication, whereas, however, it is necessary to be clear to avoid misunderstandings and misunderstandings.
The ability to establish unexpected connections, that of playing on bisense, are however ingredients of wit and the misunderstanding can arise from the use of polysemic words or homonyms or even, more simply, from the introduction of elements of syntactic ambiguity. Any book of rhetoric or grammar reports the now abused example of "the old door the bar", to which, in truth very weakly, we continue to entrust the task of representing the syntactic misunderstanding, which would, instead, be more clearly and clearly demonstrated through one of the many successful examples of "mnemonic cryptography", that type of enigmistic combination that has rightly aroused and continues to arouse the interest of linguists and semiologists.
However, ambiguous speaking is at home in many other places, as well as a literary example inherent in the ambiguity of poetry:
- is the predominant element of the pun;
- advertising is found, which can take advantage of the disturbing and unexpected effect of a simple sentence repeated with a different intonation and accent: "dressed for pleasure / dress !, for pleasure!" (but here, of course, the game is not given by real namesakes);
- it is an enigmatic pastime, which can be transferred into short epigrammatic compositions or into poetic compositions of wide scope and strong dilogical thickness.
What interests us here is the lexical meaning of the words, not so much their sentence meaning, which can vary according to the syntactic or grammatical structure.