"Lord, they do respect her but
— Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, "Her Strut"
Alternate Title: Pun With Homophones
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
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Anime & Manga
- In the English dub of Azumanga Daioh, Mr. Kimura drops the Yule/you'll pun on Yukari.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- 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.
- 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".
- 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 about her 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.
- 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 have asked me, and I have said nothing.")
- Discussed and 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.
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.
- In The Pirates of Penzance, the Major-General and Pirate King get very frustrated with each other, when the Major-General asks the pirates who have sworn to never molest an orphan (and word has gotten around), "Do you know what it means to be an orphan?", to which the Pirate King answers, "Often!".
- 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!
- Conker's Bad Fur Day: Conker sounds like "conquer".
- Used several times in BloodRayne with character names: Blood Rayne = "blood rain", Ferril = "feral".
- Uncharted has Sully, who sullies everything he comes in contact with.
- 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.
- The Order of the Stick
- The Crowning Moment of Awesome for Hulk Speak delivered by thog: it's mind-blowingly accurate while utterly incomprehensible when spoken. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo etc.
Thog: not nale, not-nale. thog help nale nail not-nale, not nale. and thog knot not-nale while nale nail not-nale. nale, not not-nale, now nail not-nale by leaving not-nale, not nale, in jail.
- "It's a Type of Boat"
Lien: This is your junk.
Hinjo: But why aren't there any citizens aboard it yet?
Lien: Your uncle was a very private person, sir. He forbade anyone from touching his junk.
Hinjo: Well, that end now. My uncle may have kept his junk to himself, but my junk will be for the people!
Are there still evacuees waiting to board a ship?
Lien: Oh, yes, sir, I imagine I'll have no trouble finding people willing to get aboard your junk.
It should be able to hold many passengers.
Hinjo: I agree, my junk appears to be quite long...
Roy: Wider than I would have expected, too.
Hinjo: Very well, Lien, you hold my junk here until it is fully loaded.
Lien: That could take some time, Lord Hinjo...
Hinjo: I don't care how long it takes, I don't want my junk to launch prematurely.
- In "The Name of the Windy", Durkon omitted to prepare Control Winds although they were going to the WINDY Canyon, because he thought it was called the Windy Canyon, as in full of winding passage. Vaarsuvius lampshades the fact that it shouldn't have happened because the the words are heteronyms with different pronunciation.