Pick Your End Words Carefully

Since these words are going to appear in your sestina so often, you want them to have special qualities. First, the end words should be common enough to serve different sentences. (For instance, you won't get too far with consequently, which is apt to grate on the ear or call attention to itself after the second use.) Second, the words should have different meanings or work in different ways (as a noun, verb and adjective, as in the word fast, for example).

Now the English language can help you. Its richness often results in homonyms (words that sound and are spelled the same but that have different origins or meanings) and other related sound effects (heteronyms, homophones, contronyms and charades).

With the help of wordsmith and author Richard Lederer, I have compiled abbreviated lists of such words from portions of his excellent books Get Thee to a Punnery (Wyrick, 1988) and Crazy English (Pocket Books, 1990):

• Homonyms (also known as homographs): ace, back, ball, bat, bill, blues, bluff, board, change, coat, county, court, dart, dash, draw, dull, fair, fall, fast, felt, file, fine, fire, free, fresh, go, hand, hard, ill, jam, lash, litter, lose, mad, match, minor, mint, odd, old, pants, partial, pit, pitch, pitcher, plot, poor, present, pupil, rare, record, rest, ring, right, rough, ruler, seal, set, short, single, soft, spirits, spring, stake, strike, take, tie, top, waffle

• Heteronyms: Words with the same spelling as other words but with different pronunciations and meanings: axes, bow, buffet, console, content, converse, deserts, does, entrance, incense, lead, minute, number, peaked, present, putting, ragged, recreate, resigned, resorting, row, secretive, sewer, slaver, slough, sow, tower, wind, wound

• Homophones'. Words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings: alter/altar; ant/aunt; ascent/assent; banned/band; barred/bard; base/bass; better/bettor; bizzare/bazaar; boar/bore; bored/board; boarder/border; bolder/boulder; booze/boos; capital/capitol; cellar/seller; cent/scent; cheap/cheep; choral/coral; cite/sight/ site; coarse/course; coax/Cokes; colonel's/kernels; coward/cowered; crew's/cruise; dear/deer; does/doze; dual/duel; elicit/illicit; eight/ate; ewes/use; fare/fair; flees/fleas; flower/flour; foul/fowl; genes/jeans; gorilla/guerrilla; great/grate; grisly/grizzly; grosser/grocer; guest/ guessed; hare/hair; heals/heels; hear/here; heard/herd; hoarse/horse; hoes/hose; idle/idol; isle/aisle; knave/nave; lead/led; lox/locks; lynx/ links; lyre/liar; male/mail; maize/maze; manner/manor; meet/meat; mewl/mule; minor/miner; mite/might; moose/mousse; mourning/morning; mussel/muscle; mustered/mustard; naval/navel; nights/knights; one/won; our/hour; ooze/oohs; pain/pane; pair/pare/pear; pale/pail; patient's/patience; paws/pause; peak/peek; plain/plane; prince/prints; purchase/perches; rain/rein/reign; raise/rays/raze; right/rite/write; roe/row; roomer/rumor; sail/sale; sees/seas; slays/sleighs; sole/soul; stationary/stationery; Sunday/sundae; sun's/sons; sweet/suite; sword/ soared; tacks/tax; tail/tale; tease/tees; thrown/throne; tied/tide; to/too/

two; towed/toad; whale/wail; whole/hole; whirled/world; who's/whose; wine/whine

• Contronyms: Words that have two distinctly opposite meanings: awful (awe-inspiring/terrible), bolt (secure/dart); buckle (fasten together/fall apart); certain (definite/difficult to specify); cleave (separate/adhere to); clip (fasten/separate); critical (opposed/essential to); dress (put on/take off); dust (remove/spread on); fast (firmly in one place/moving place to place); fix (restore/remove); give out (produce/ stop producing); hold up (support/hinder); left (departed from/remaining); moot (debatable/not worthy of debate); mortal (deadly/subject to death); oversight (careful supervision/neglect); put out (generate/ extinguish); qualified (competent/limited); scan (study/glance); screen (view/hide from view); sanction (give approval of/censure); strike (secure in place/remove); temper (soften/harden); trim (add to/ cut away); trip (to stumble/move gracefully); wear (endure/decay); weather (withstand/wear away)

• Charades'. Words that contain two or more words or suggest ones by pronunciation: allowed (all owed), amaze (a maze), armour (arm our), appear (up here), diet (dye it), healthy (heal thy), hijack (hi jack), mustache (must ache), manslaughter (man's laughter), super-best (super best), withstand (with stand)

Keep in mind that these are abbreviated lists. You should add to them as you hear new words. Repeated homonymic and related words startle, humor or intrigue the listener. If you skillfully employ them in a sestina, you'll be able to execute the form in the grand tradition of the French troubadours . . . while you develop a keener love and appreciation for English.

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