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, an Accidental Innuendo or That Came Out Wrong.
- 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.
Japanese works love this kind of wordplay, since one certain reading (furigana) can refer to many things at once. Contrast Alternate Character Reading where gags are made with a set of kanji with multiple readings.
- Azumanga Daioh:
- The girls at one point make jokes about Bruce Lee acting in a hypothetical movie called "Blue Three" (both are pronounced "Buruu Surii" in Japanese).
- In the English dub, Mr. Kimura drops the Yule/you'll pun on Yukari.
- Eien no With: Hitomi raises a puppy to be a seeing guide dog who she named Eye, which is actually an elaborate bilingual pun: Eye is a Labrador, "lab" is pronounced "rabu" in Japanese; "rabu" is how the English word "love" is pronounced; "love" in Japanese is "ai" which sounds like "eye"; "Hitomi" also means "eye". Shy Hitomi feels a connection with Eye, the runt of the litter so there's another layer: "mi" means eye, "mi" sounds like "me" ("he reminds me of me").
- The first season of I Can't Understand What My Husband is Saying ends on a pun. Both Kaoru and Hajime say sankyu, although one of them meant "thank you" and the other meant "maternity leave".
- Doraemon has a few episodes where a gadget is based on this trope (the creator Fujiko F. Fujio is fond of wordplay in general): One gadget can turn an object into another object whose name is a homophone, for example turning a spider into a cloud which in Japanese share the same pronounciation くも kumo.
- There was also the episode where Noby asked if alcohol can reproduce, which Doraemon says yes. Unfortunately, Doraemon was talking about salmon, which also happened to be pronounced sake in Japanese. Presumably why Japanese borrowed the word "salmon". Hilariously though, Doraemon then proceeds to reproduce alcohol like how salmon reproduce.
- Kindaichi Case Files relies on this as a clue to solve a series of murder in a mansion linked to a deceased musician's poem. During the second murder, the culprit mistakenly put a spinning top instead of something related to horse like chess piece, due to them sounding similar pronounciation wise (koma). Kindaichi then deduced that the culprit was one of those who came late to the mansion thus not knowing how the poem was written in kanji.
- Ranma ˝: Early on, when Genma (in panda form) is handed a loaf of bread, Dr. Tofu makes a dumb joke regarding the fact that "panda" and "pan da" ("It/That is bread") are homophones in Japanese. The English translation had to rewrite the joke to being "the breadwinner".
- One Piece: many names and speeches are playing with homophones, reflecting Oda's love of such gags. Case in point, many of Zoro's sword techniques are badass sounding names that happen to be homophonic with something silly or unrelated, such as how "Tatsumaki" is written with the kanji for "Dragon Wave", but it can also mean "Tornado".
- 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.
- Flushed Away has a phonetic pun across two different speakers:
Roddie St. James: What the ...
Sid the Sewer Rat: Hello!
- 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 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 Galaxy Quest, the similar sounding words minor and miner lead to a confusion:
Alex: Could they be the miners?Fred: Sure, they're like, three years old.Alex: Miners, not minors!
- 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".
- The joke name for a divorce firm: "Ditcher, Quicke and Hyde"
- Q: Two cats have a swimming race: One cat is from England and is named One-Two-Three. The other is from France and is named Un-Deux-Trois. Who won? A: One-Two-Three wins, of course. Because the Un-Deux-Trois cat sank.Explanation
- In Dodie Smith's The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Missy, seeing Pongo covered in soot, declares "Suit soots you!"
- 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.
- In Reaper Man, the wizards try to cure Windle Poons of his sudden undead nature by burying him at a crossroads with a stake through his heart. The wizards get a bit confused and think they have to bury him with a steak through his heart. Then the Bursar sheepishly admits he couldn't find any steak on such short notice and brought a bundle of slightly wilted celery instead.
- 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." Quite fittingly, since the old bloodsucker is obsessed with puns.
- 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—
- The classic SF short story Placet is a Crazy Place starts with the situation getting 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.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Ford Prefect describes going through hyperspace as "unpleasantly like being drunk"; Arthur Dent asks what's unpleasant about being drunk (as in intoxicated) and Ford responds "Ask a glass of water" (revealing that he meant it as in imbibed).
- The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams features the celebrated firm of architects, Sir Conham Goode, Son, and Howe, who designed the new buildings for Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental).
- Reacher Gilt makes a prophet/profit joke in Going Postal which goes over the head of the other Corrupt Corporate Executives. Lampshaded when he notes it'd be clearer in writing.
- Game of Thrones: House Lannister's song and go-to implied threat, The Rains of Castamere, is about the destruction of House Reyne of Castamere.
- On an episode of Workaholics, Adam Demamp walks into the boss' office and says "Alice, I Demamp to know what is going on!"
- Also, while chewing tobacoo (a brand of which is Skoal) Adam says 'Skoal!' instead of the guy's more usual call to depart, 'S'go!'
- 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 & Clark, Tempus, who became the President, addresses Superman on television and states:
Tempus: 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...
- The Benny Hill Show:
- A doctor comes on a serious TV talk show to discuss euthanasia. Unfortunately, the talk show's topic of the day was "Youth in Asia".
- Two army officers are sitting around smoking pipes and reading the paper. One calls for his batman note , and an actor obviously confused about his part comes in dressed as Batman. At this point it's revealed that what we're watching is the production of a film.
- Sze U Tonight is very fond of this trope. For instance, its Chinese name is 今晚睇李, but 李 is host Johnson Lee's surname, and is a pun on 你, the word for you.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has fun with this in the episode "Sugar", when the detectives are looking for a witness to a murder known online as the "Master Baiter", who works in a store.
Stabler: (over the store PA) Attention employees, will the Master Baiter please report to Register 1. Master Baiter, Register 1.
(A nerdy-looking stock boy hangs his head in shame and walks forlornly to the front.)
Benson: (over the store PA) Not a "masturbator", the Master Baiter.
- One of the most famous British sketches, Four Candles from The Two Ronnies relies heavily on this as a Running Gag.
- On The Red Green Show, the Lodge makes a 50-foot long of sausage link for a cook-off, and are trying to figure out how to actually get it there.
Red: I got an idea! Take a couple of boat trailers, put 'em end-to-end behind the Possum Van, and just lay the sausage right over the whole deal there.
Dalton: But what if the cops stop us?
Red: Well, we'll tell 'em it's a biodegradable telephone pole.
Dalton: Oh! Oh! Y'know what you could say?
Dalton: [laughing] "I bet you never sausagenote a thing!"
Red: ...Don't make me kill you, Dalton.
- Fargo Season Two: Mike Milligan reminisces in one episode about how the word "revolution" has two meanings: either as an overthrow of another power, or a planet making a complete orbit around another celestial object. He fails to realize the irony of his storyline: he thinks his revolution against the Gerhardts is the "overthrow" kind, when in reality it's the "full-circle" kind. His success against them just leave him back where he started: as an underappreciated employee for the Kansas City Mafia that's stuck doing a job he hates.
- 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.")
- "Funky But Chic" by David Johansen - the chorus words, run together, become "funky butt cheek."
- The Metallica songs "The Unforgiven" and "The Unforgiven II" technically have Non Appearing Titles, but both have lines that are near-homophones for Title Drops ("I dub thee unforgiven" and "Are you unforgiven, too?).
- Kids Praise: It takes them until the ninth album to do this, but they finally make a pun about Psalty tasting terrible because he's got too much salt. The context is that there are cannibals who only eat books who want to eat Psalty.
- 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!
- In Colossal Cave Adventure, when trying to kill the bear:
With what? Your bare hands? Against his bear hands?
- 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.
- Tales of Rebirth: Solving the "Mystery of the Iron Factory" sidequest nets Annie and Veigue the "Great Detective"note title, while Tytree gets "Sloppy Detective."note The words used are pronounced exactly the same, even though their meanings are entirely opposite.
- Team Fortress 2: The Soldier's woefully inaccurate knowledge about Sun Tzu includes the belief that he herded two of every kind of animal in the world onto a boat and then beat them all up with his awesome fighting skills, and that it is for this reason that whenever a bunch of different kinds of animals are gathered together in one place, it's called a "Tzu" (zoo).note
- Toon Link's weapon type in Hyrule Warriors is called "Light Sword". Its description says it's a lightweight sword meant for younger adventurers, and... well, just guess what its element is.
- The move "Poison Jab" in Pokémon, which can be learned not only by Pokémon of the Poison type or who have fangs/stingers/spines to inject their poison with, but also Fighting Pokémon.note
- During the 16 More Ways bonus game in 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at Mcdonalds, one of the ways the hunters kill a vampire is by steaking it... with the steak from a steak, egg, and cheese bagel. They end up having to explain the pun to the confused vampire, who dies as soon as he understands it.
- 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.
- Dragonball Z Abridged uses this in one of the Episode Breakdowns. Bulma's just asked if Mr. Gohan would like to stay for dinner:
Gohan: Mr. Gohan would.
- The episode commentary reveals they had made an (ultimately-scrapped) alternate scene where Gohan takes Bulma up on her offer to stay the night, interested as she is in his, uh...
Gohan: Mr. Gohan wood.
- The Order of the Stick:
Belkar: No, you're a homophone!
- 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.
- Inverted: 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 words are heteronyms with different pronunciation.
- In "He Assumed It Was a Cholesterol Thing," Belkar is trying to make wooden stakes to fight a vampire, and mentions he had difficulty trying to do it earlier. Cue flashback of him making steaks and talking to another character, who evidently just called it out or lampshaded it:
- 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.
- The title of every The Non-Adventures of Wonderella strip is one of these.
- The strip called "Gnome Ann" in xkcd. Gnome Ann is a formidable character who does things that it is said "no man" does. So, time and tide wait for Gnome Ann, Gnome Ann was born wise, and the wicked flee when Gnome Ann pursues. She also qualifies for Gnome Ann of Woman Born, as it were, and the Star Trek guys are only following in her footsteps.
- Sluggy Freelance: In "The Heroic Adventures of Binky and Clyde", the protagonists mess up a Virgin Sacrifice to dragons because they choose the most "chased" woman in the village instead of "chaste".
- Sam & Fuzzy has the titular Sam being interrogated by the Ninja Mafia elders as a candidate for Emperor in a You Kill It, You Bought It scenario. At one point one of the elders disbelievingly questions Sam's statement that he killed his predecessor with his "bare hands," and Sam, realizing how unlikely that sounds, says that he meant he used his secret martial arts technique of "bear hands".
- Superman: The Animated Series twice made a joke of someone talking about Superman's "S": once when Lois first sees a picture and says he has a "nice S", and when Lobo threatens to kick his "big red S".
- Robot Chicken:
Girl: 'Cause there are words that sound the same/Like "dam", and "pecker", and "gay"/And then some words are spelled the same/Like "knockers", and "cock", and "snatch"!
- Kaeloo: In the episode "Let's Play Golf", Kaeloo tells Stumpy that he needs to use a tee. He mistakes it for "tea" and asks why he can't have coffee.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "The Whole Tooth" played with the legend of the tooth fairy by revealing in the end that SpongeBob was actually talking about a tooth ferry.
- The Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Affairweather Friends" had Berri attempt to get Bloo's attention by pretending to be a rich kid named Barry, which eventually leads to Mac unsuccessfully trying to get it through to Bloo that Barry and Berri are one and the same.
- In the Steven Universe episode "Sadie Killer", Sadie starts making up a song about how much she hates her job, with at one point the lyrics going into how she can't be in mourning in regards to Lars being stranded on an alien planet because she has to work yet another shift in the morning due to currently being the only employee at her store.
I really ought to be in mourning/but I've got another shift this morning.
- In "Think or Swim" from Goldie & Bear, Humpty Dumpty shouts "high," trying to warn Goldie and Bear that they're filling the Giant's bathtub too high. Unfortunately, they think he's just saying "Hi."
- 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."
- The crew of the USS Pueblo, captured by North Korea:
"We paean the DPRK. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung."
- If you thought furigana was bad enough when it came to the puns, wait until you see Chinese comedy shows. A good portion of Chinese humour is guaranteed to involve homophones and some sort of pun. This makes sense considering how Chinese is a tonal language, which means many words share the same pronunciation.