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Funny Logical Ambiguity

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I was listening to an audiobook today, as I try to do every day, and heard a neat phonological ambiguity. The book was “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, a 600-year-old tale from England which has been translated by Simon Armitage from Middle English into Modern English. Armitage does a wonderful job of using alliteration (which is to Middle English poetry what rhyme is to modern poetry) to recapture the “flavor” of the old language, and the reader (British actor Bill Wallis) is brilliant as well. (Wallis even reads the entire book in Middle English after he finishes with the Modern English translation.)

Anyway… I heard something like “…threw him into the copse” and immediately had a funny mental image of throwing a guy into a bunch of police officers. If you don’t know what a “copse” is, don’t be surprised; we rarely use the word anymore. I was surprised that I did know what it was.

So we have:

  • cops, simple present tense of “to cop”, as in “to illicitly obtain”: “He cops a feel whenever he goes out with a girl.”
  • cops, simple present tense of “to cop”, as in “to arrest”: “Officer O’Reilly cops at least one drug dealer every shift he works.”
  • cops, plural of “cop” as in “police officer”: “If you fart like that one more time, I’m going to call the cops and have you arrested for attempted murder.”
  • copse, a “bunch of bushes”: “Your kitten is hiding in that copse over there.”

Looking for more possibilities, Google led me to this wonderful resource: Suber & Thorpe, “An English Homophone Dictionary”. It’s no longer maintained, but wow… it’s loaded with goodies.

Incidentally, the audiobook seems to be unavailable from I got my copy from my public library. It’s published by BBC Audiobooks America and can be ordered by way of this link. The printed book is available from your favorite bookseller.

Written by Michael DeBusk

December 11th, 2007 at 11:50 pm

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