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A Mere Bagatelle…

February 2, 2013

Bagatelle – definition: 1) a French table game like billiards played with pins as obstacles. 2) something of little value or importance; a trifle. 3) a short and light musical composition, typically for the piano.


I have to admit I knew the first two definitions of this word but not the third. Although it’s not that surprising as I’m not musically inclined. Trying to learn to read music was not a strong point at school. However, I love listening to music and especially appreciate live performances. My musical tastes are to say the least – broad – from classical to rock to pop and everything in-between. This appreciation is due to my parents encouraging their children to listen to all types of music. I was lucky to be taken to numerous live performances of classical ensembles but my favorite was a birthday treat. My parents took me to the Royal Albert Hall in London to listen to a Beethoven concert (a favored composer). We dressed up, drank champagne and not only heard but also felt his incredible music vibrating around the magnificent dome and through our bodies. It was an exhilarating experience and is a treasured memory.

English: Royal Albert Hall, London, from Princ...

English: Royal Albert Hall, London, from Prince Consort Road. The steps lead to the Joseph Durham’s 1863 Memorial to the 1851 Exhibition, which is topped by a statue of Prince Consort Albert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I read the definition it struck me that there are two words within it that can be used for multiple definitions / uses. Firstly, of course bagatelle but also trifle, which is either triviality or a scrumptious dessert. How can the same word have multiple uses? No wonder English is thought to be a difficult language to learn! This is due to etymology – based on how the word is spelt you can make a guess where the word came from. After all England was conquered numerous times in its rich history as well as spread its language to all corners of the globe. Integration of other languages has formed ‘English’ into this unique form, which is further diversified by dialects.

With my curiosity piqued I began searching the Internet and came across this informative site. It gives some great definitions of words with multiple meanings.

Basic Definitions

When we start talking about words with multiple meanings, there are some basic definitions that we need to discuss first. Those definitions are the ones attached to homonyms, homophones, and homographs.

  • Homonyms are words, which have the same spelling and pronunciation, but have different meanings.
  • Homophones are words, which have the same pronunciation, but different spellings and meanings.
  • Homographs are words that are spelt the same, but have different pronunciations and meanings.

Since the topic of words with multiple meanings is so broad, we will cover examples from each of these three unique areas. What follows are lists of homonyms, homophones, and homographs, and an explanation as to why each word belongs in that category if it is not apparent from the spellings.


  • crane: That bird is a crane. They had to use a crane to lift the object. /She had to crane her neck to see the movie.
  • date: Her favorite fruit to eat is a date. Joe took Alexandria out on a date.
  • engaged: They got engaged on March 7th. The students were very engaged in the presentation.
  • foil: Please wrap the sandwich in foil. They learned about the role of a dramatic foil in English class.
  • leaves: The children love to play in the leaves. They do not like when their father leaves for work.
  • net: What was your net gain for the year? Crabbing is easier if you bring a net along.
  • point: The pencil has a sharp point. It is not polite to point at people.
  • right: You were right. Make a right turn at the light.
  • rose: My favorite flower is a rose. He quickly rose from his seat.
  • type: He can type over 100 words per minute. That dress is really not her type.


  • pale/pail
  • ate/eight
  • alter/altar
  • band/banned
  • buy/bye/by
  • red/read
  • blew/blue
  • boar/bore
  • canon/cannon
  • coarse/course
  • fair/fare
  • genes/jeans
  • foul/fowl
  • grate/great
  • in/inn
  • hour/our
  • knight/night
  • no/know
  • nose/knows
  • maize/maze
  • meddle/metal
  • rain/reign
  • sea/see
  • role/roll
  • their/there/they’re
  • veil/vale


  • read: She is going to read the book later. He read the book last night.
  • bass: They caught a bass. His voice belongs in the bass section.
  • bow: She put a bow in her daughter’s hair. Please bow down to the emperor.
  • minute: That is only a minute problem. Wait a minute!
  • learned: The class learned that information last week. He is a very learned individual.
  • sewer: The rats crept through the sewer. She is a fine sewer.
  • wound: They wound up the toy as soon as they got it. She received a wound from the punch.
  • does: He does his homework every night. There were many does in the forest.
  • wind: The wind swept up the leaves. Wind the clock up before you go to bed.
  • sow: A sow is a female pig. We’ll sow the seeds in springtime.

I hope you had as much fun with these as I did…words are our world.

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