In the last couple of blog posts I looked at acronyms, and the difference between them and abbreviations. I also took a look at what actually is an ‘onym’ (it’s a suffix denoting a type of name or a word that has a specified relationship or meaning). Common onyms are synonyms and antonyms, homonyms and heteronyms. Wikipedia lists over fifty different ‘onyms’. Some of these are things we commonly come across, like pseudonyms, but others are names for types of words that we might be using every day, without knowing they can actually be categorised in this way. So, I decided to take a look at five of these more unusual ‘onyms’.
Capitonyms and anepronyms
A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning when it is capitalised. A couple of easy examples are march, as in to walk briskly, marching and March, the third month of the year. Another is polish, which can be either a noun describing a product used to make something sparkly, like furniture polish, or a verb, to polish, which is the act of making something shiny. I bet you use anepronyms every day without even realising. They are trademark terms that have become so well-established in common vocabulary that they’re used to describe other similar objects. Common examples are the word ‘hoover’ used to describe a vacuum cleaner, or ‘aspirin’ used to mean any type of mild painkiller.
Metonyms and mononyms
A metonym is “a word, name or expression used as substitute for something else which is closely associated” (Oxford). There are lots of examples in everyday speech even though we may not be aware of them. For example, we often refer to the monarch as ‘the crown’, to the government as ‘Downing Street’ or the US government as Washington. A mononym refers to the use of a single word to name an individual person, like the philosopher Plato or the singer Madonna. In fact, historically many societies only used one name, and some such as Tibet and Mongolia still do. In the West, mononyms declined after the Middle Ages and the trend became that only royalty, and famous people like authors and entertainers used singe names.
Moving into the digital age: Textonyms
A textonym is a word that is generated using the numbers on a mobile phone keyboard. Obviously, this developed from the use of SMS messages and text-speak. For example, the word ‘help’ can be spelled out using the numbers 4357. These types of words are also known as homonumeric words.