the many meanings of a bow

According to Wikipedia,

In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings (in other words, are both homographs and homophones), usually as a result of the two words having different origins.

Isn’t it fascinating that English has homographs which are not homophones, for instance lead (/liːd/ or /led/), live (/lɪv/ or /laɪv/), read (/riːd/ or /red/), row (/rəʊ/ or /raʊ/)… How one is supposed to know which read is used in the phrase:

  1. I read the book
  2. I read the book

In English, there are three homographs of bow, of which only two are true homonyms:

  1. bow /bəʊ/ (a) a weapon (to shoot arrows); (b) fiddlestick; (c) a type of knot
  2. bow /baʊ/ (a) to incline the head etc. as a greetings, assent, thanks and so on; (b) the corresponding noun
  3. bow /baʊ/ (nautical term) prow

Some languages, such as Dutch or Russian, use five different words where English uses just one!

English bow 1a bow 1b bow 1c bow 2b bow 3
Dutch boog strijkstok strik buiging boeg
French arc archet nœud de rosette révérence proue
German Bogen Bogen Schleife Verbeugung Bug
Italian arco archetto fiocco inchino prua, prora
Portuguese arco arco laço reverência proa
Russian лук смычок бант поклон нос
Spanish arco arco lazo reverencia proa

The Russian word for bow (weapon) is лук, of Proto-Slavic etymology (cf. Russian лука bend, saddlebow). It has a homonym of Proto-Germanic origin, meaning onion (cf. Danish løg or English leek).

In both Spanish and Portuguese, the opposite of proa (prow) is popa (stern). I don’t know about you, but I find this rather touching.

Wordle: bow


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