Fun with Homophones
Using spoken homophones (sound-alikes) for fun.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-01-23 10:03:04 sponsor: JoveHack edited by: LordGro (last reply: 2013-04-13 07:17:37)

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"Lord, they do respect her but..."
--Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, "Her Strut"

A homophone is a word or phrase that sounds like, or very similar, to something different when spoken. It is a case of Double Meaning, but even easier to miss, especially when read and not heard.

Naturally, this can be mined for laughs. The result is a type of Pun, but one that relies on sound instead of written language. But homophones can be used for many purposes and thus overlap with various other tropes:
  • Multiple Reference Pun: A character makes a pun based on a homophone in-story. Often a Stealth Insult, sometimes just a plain insult.
  • Double Entendre: A phrase has a "dirty" double sense. A good method for Getting Crap Past the Radar. If a Double Entendre is unintended by the speaker, it's an Innocent Innuendo.
  • Meaningful Name: A character's name has a phonetical double-meaning, especially one that describes the character or his role.
  • Punny Name: Like the above, but funnier.
  • A line of dialogue has a double meaning, un-intended by the speaker, that reveals more of their character or motives than they intended.
  • A word or line of dialogue is comically misunderstood by a character, from which ensues hilarity. Who's on First? is a veteran example of this. Mondegreen is when it happens with song lyrics.

Also very frequently found in the context of prank phone calls, where the full name is a homophone for a dirty phrase.

Compare Fun with Acronyms and Fun With Palindromes.

Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder: Film]]
  • My Favorite Year Alan Swann (played by Peter O'Toole) advised Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) on his romantic pursuit of K.C. Downing (Jessica Harper). Swann restrained Stone from pursuing Downing just long enough to advise "Always let her think she is being chaste/chased."
  • Moneypenny [Samantha Bond]'s "You always were a cunning linguist (cunnilinguist), James" to James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies. Source.
  • In The Marx Brothers films, Groucho Marx uses phonetic puns and double-entendres as one of his signature traits:
    • A Night at the Opera. When Groucho is told a certain singer is paid a thousand dollars a night, Groucho responds, "A thousand dollars a nacht?!" If you speak German, like Groucho did, you'll hear "a nacht" (a night). If you don't speak German you'll hear "an act". Both make the same amount of sense. Making this a bi-lingual Meaningful Homophone.

  • In Toy Story 3 Barbie says to Ken, "Nice ass-cot."

  • Megamind names his protege "Titan", and Titan promptly decries the name as stupid. It's not until he writes his own super-name across the city, in 20-meter-long letters of flaming destruction that the viewers learn he thought his new name was Tighten.
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[[folder: Literature]]
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
    • Rita Skeeter says "The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl." Thus hinting that the reader should have known all along that The Daily Prophet wasn't concerned with anything but its own profit.
    • There's also the Yule/you'll Ball.
  • Invoked and lampshaded in Feet of Clay: When Dragon King of Arms (an ancient vampire) tells Vimes "Pray, enter", Vimes (who hates vampires) thinks to himself that he hears it as "Prey, enter."
  • Gunpowder God in the Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen series. A commander visits his wounded troops in the hospital, and comments on the attractiveness of their nurse. "She has been most marvelously chaste", replies one of the men mischievously. "Of course she has [been chased]," roars the commander, "but has she been caught?"
  • In one Ramona Quimby novel where, on her first day in class, Ramona caused a minor ruckus because when the teacher said "you can sit here for the present", Ramona didn't realize the teacher was meaning "the present time" instead of "a gift".
  • Hiro is the hero of Snow Crash.
  • Piers Anthony's Xanth series is fond of this trope:
    • "Isle of View" being confused with "I love you."
    • The title of Crewel Lye: A Caustic Yarn is ambiguous on four counts:
      • Crewel is a form of embroidery using wool, and a homophone for "cruel".
      • Lye is a caustic (i.e. chemically active creating burns) liquid, and a homophone for "lie".
      • Caustic can be caustic chemical, or just an adjective meaning bitter.
      • Yarn is a tale, except when it's used for knitting.
  • Encyclopedia Brown:
    • "The Case of the Flower Can". A thief accidentally drops a valuable Confederate coin into a can filled with flowers. Encyclopedia knows he'll try to get it back, so he sets a trap. When a man comes to the door claiming to be selling magazines, a woman hands him a can of flour and says she put the coin in "the flour can". Instead of dumping out the flour to look for the coin, he searches until he finds the can filled with flowers, thus proving that he's the thief. Only the thief would think that she was talking about a "flower" can.
    • Another mystery has a diamond theft solved by the detective announcing the diamond is "an arrow flight away" (it was taken out of its case, attached to an arrow, and shot out the window). The guilty person was the only one who thought to look outside because he knew a bow and arrow were involved, everyone else assumed the diamond was upstairs, i.e. "a narrow flight" of stairs away.
  • Riddley Walker, which is completely written in a first-person Funetik Aksent, takes advantage of the ambiguity to have double meanings all over the place. One of the main ones is "hart of the wud", which variously means "hart (deer) of the wood", "heart of the wood", and "heart of the would" (as in, the will). Usually it means more than one of those at the same time.
  • The O. Henry short story 'Sound and Fury' is the 'fun' variety of this. An author is dictating a story to his stenographer, and her comments indicates she keeps getting it wrong. Their names are respectively Mr. Penne and Miss Lore, so they also have Punny Names.
    MR. PENNE (dictates) "...Cortland, with his arm firmly entwined abouther waist, knew nothing of her sighs--"
    MISS LORE Goodness! If he couldn't tell her size with his arm around--
  • There's an SF fantastical short story where the situation get so bad that the main character tenders his resignation by orally instructing the comms officer send two words to headquarters, "I quit." Later, through a series of miraculous contrivances, all becomes well. Except that due to the resignation message the hero will be unable to reap the rewards of his labors. The day is saved (for the final time) when it turns out that the comms officer sent the two words "Ike Witt," a person know to both HQ and the hero. Headquarters had duly transferred Ike Witt to the hero's command.
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[[folder: Live Action TV]]
  • In BlackAdder I, a horse is being questioned on the witness stand in Black Adder's trial for being a witch. Upon answering with a neighing sound, the prosecutor asks for clarification "Was that a 'neigh' or a 'nay'?" (The subtitles spell this out.)
  • In Home Improvement, Tim's son is talking to him via videotape, and claims "There is greatness in my genes/jeans."
  • In an episode of Lois and Clark, Tempus, who became the President, addresses Superman on television and states:
    I hope we can find a place for you in the Doe administration... I hope you can understand that ... and if you, Kent... I mean can't
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[[folder: Music]]
  • Rammstein's song "Du Hast". In German, "du hast" means "you have," and "du hasst" means "you hate," and they're pronounced almost identically. So the lines, "Du. Du hast. Du hast mich," are commonly heard as, "You. You hate. You hate me." (The sentence fully sung is, "Du hast mich gefragt, und ich hab nichts gesagt," meaning, "You asked me, and I said nothing.")
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[[Theatre]]
  • Discussed & spelled out in Elaine May's one-act play Adaptation (no relation to the film of the same name):
    Norma: Last year I read "The Prophet" aloud at my parents' seder. My mother cried. She didn't understand. I wanted them to hear "The Prophet" so they could understand love - but too many people spell it f-i-t.
    Phil: F-i-t?
    Norma: Yes, ironic isn't it? That's how they spell everything.
    Phil: F-i-t spells "fit."
    Norma: I know. That's why "The Prophet" is meaningless to them.
    Phil: Oh, they spell Prophet f-i-t.
Phil then misses the point Norma was making, discussing illiteracy.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Video Games]]
  • In Portal, GlaDOS tells Chell "When the testing is over, you will be...missed/mist." The subtitles only state "will be missed", as expected. Subtitles have difficulty properly rendering an ambiguous spoken homonym. Considering the flames at the end of the testing course, most of Chell will be mist, and pretty quickly too. In the event, Chell is fine because she used portals so that the flames missed her. So GlaDOS was literally telling the truth!
  • Conkers Bad Fur Day: Conker sounds like "conquer".
  • Used several times in BloodRayne with character names: Blood Rayne = "blood rain", Ferril = "feral".
  • Flushed Away has a phonetic pun across two different speakers:
    Roddie St. James: What the ...
    Sid the Sewer Rat: Hello!
  • Uncharted has Sully, who sullies everything he comes in contact with.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Web Animation]]
  • Yahtzee Croshaw will use these in his Zero Punctuation series. Illustrating the dialog with alternate words with the same pronunciation. "Butt Weight" was used to subtitle "But Wait!" Adding confusion for the sake of humor.
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[[folder: Other]]
  • A joke: Why will you never go hungry in the desert? Because of all the sandwiches [= "sand which is"] there!
  • A lot of Stirlitz jokes, from Russian Humour, are based on this. It's often difficult to translate them.
  • The joke name for a law firm: "Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe".
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Real Life]]
  • Once in the Australian Parliament, Sir Winston Turnbull was giving a speech that included the words "I am a country member." Gough Whitlam interjected: "I remember."
[[/folder]]
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