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Friday 14 May 2021

The pleasure of the senses The charm of the double

The charm of the double

Author of the content

Homonymy and polysemy

The distinction between polysemy and homonymy was said; however easy to formulate, it is difficult to apply consistently and reliably.

An undoubtedly valid criterion is the etymological one, even if not pertinent and completely resolutive in synchronic linguistics. It is true that lexicographers consider it a sufficient condition to define homonymy, but the difference of origin has never been considered the indispensable condition to distinguish it from polysemy.

The same etymology, moreover, although it represents one of the most ancient branches of linguistics, has difficulty in being formulated in terms of total rigor. It remains a science in which every conquest is susceptible of modifications by virtue of new discoveries, new bonds and new derivations; etymologists continue to demolish the etymologies of others, etymological dictionaries grow old and must be continually renewed. And perhaps precisely for this reason, etymology continues to be the only part of linguistics capable of also involving non-experts. Questions on the exact lexical derivation or, more simply, of the type "why do you say this?" they are frequently formulated; many try to answer you and not always with unequivocal results.

It is certainly possible, however, to also attempt a re-evaluation of the homonymy by observing that, if in the common language one tries to eliminate through the context the possible ambiguities (polysemic and homonymous), on other occasions, such as in the play of words, in the language advertising and in the puzzle business, this ambiguity becomes the essential and irreplaceable protagonist; it is precisely through the use of homonymy, of this particular circumstance present in our lexicon, that the modern enigma has taken on its current connotation, which distinguishes it well from the vague and discursive ambiguity of the ancient enigma. In it, if ever, in addition to the allegory, the translation and the metaphor, the "word" used a different meaning, a more or less driven semantic expansion; there was no real enigmatic structure in that activity, such as the one manifested in the modern enigma. With the homonymy the discourse is different, remarkably different, the ambiguity acquires a much more consistent dimension, at least when "homonyms" are understood to be those really such, which stand out well for their distinct etymological derivation and find in the enigmistic discourse their full exploitation.

The surprises are innumerable and certainly do not stop at those aroused by "a sum collected" which indicates the REVOLUTION, in addition to a cash collection; or again from a thaw that instead wants to mention a "end of season liquidation"; or finally, when FEVER, less blatantly, is to represent a "warm expression of affection".

The ambiguity of the text, today, is realized thanks to the multiple articulations of the language and develops in different structural ways. Essential among these is, in fact, the use of homonyms that find their full appreciation in the enigmistic discourse. To hear a touch of a bell, no doubt catches us, but if we read the phrase 'a touch of a bell', it is certainly not clear whether we should refer to a blow of the clapper or to a "beautiful guagliona", for a long time in short, a girl from the parts of Naples or Capri, from Campania; "The French capital" is Paris, of course, but the guillotine can be too, when you think of the death penalty and the sad machine to behead. And the guillotine itself can still be defined as "provocative neckline" for the tremendous effect it produces and that has little or nothing to do with an exciting neckline. There are puzzle games that are equally concise, but which also excite a lot for their double reading, sometimes using only simple semantic expansions: the "mnemonic cryptography" from the exposed PELO E CONTROPELO is admirably developed without the use of any real homonym and his explanation "are the past two" (which hints at an approximate time) continues equally to surprise despite its simplicity.

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