Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

young girl screaming for ice cream
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A sequence of words (for example, "ice cream") that sounds the same as a different sequence of words ("I scream").

The term oronym was coined by Gyles Brandreth in The Joy of Lex (1980).

Examples and Observations

  • Oronyms in "The Four Candles" Sketch
    [The setting is a hardware shop. Ronnie Corbett is behind the counter. Ronnie Barker is the customer.]
    Barker: Four candles.
    [Corbett places four candles on the counter.]
    Barker: No, four candles!
    Corbett: Well there you are, four candles!
    Barker: No, fork 'andles! 'andles for forks! . . .
    Barker: 'O's!
    Corbett: 'O's?
    Barker: 'O's.
    [He places a hoe on the counter.]
    Barker: No, 'O's!
    Corbett: 'O's! I thought you said hoe! 'O's!
    [He places a hose on the counter.]
    Barker: No, 'o's!
    Corbett: O's? Oh, you mean panty hose, panty hose!
    Barker: No, no, 'o's! 'O's for the gate. Mon repose! 'O's! Letter o's!
    Corbett: Letter o's! You had me going there! . . .
    (Ronnie Barker, "The Four Candles." The Two Ronnies, Sep. 4, 1976)
  • A Woody Allen Oronym
    "In an early scene from the 1977 Oscar-winning movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen complains to his friend Tony Roberts that someone has expressed anti-Semitism toward Woody by rhetorically asking, 'Jew eat?' Phonetically, /ju#it/ is a typical form of reduction for the question 'Did you eat?' Woody has, characteristically, displayed his own paranoia by mistakenly comprehending the phonological reduction /ju#it/ as 'Jew eat?'"
    (William E. Cooper and Jeanne Paccia-Cooper, Syntax and Speech. Harvard Univ. Press, 1980)
  • Pinker on Oronyms
    "All speech is an illusion. We hear speech as a string of separate words, but unlike the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it, a word boundary with no one to hear it has no sound. In the speech sound wave, one word runs into the next seamlessly; there are no little silences between spoken words the way there are white spaces between written words. We simply hallucinate word boundaries when we reach the edge of a stretch of sound that matches some entry in our mental dictionary. . . . The seamlessness of speech is also apparent in oronyms, strings of sound that can be carved into words in two different ways:
    The good can decay many ways.
    The good candy came anyways.
    The stuffy nose can lead to problems.
    The stuff he knows can lead to problems." (Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct. William Morrow & Co., 1994)
  • A Toy Yoda
    "Last year, a waitress won a contest to sell the most beer at a Hooters bar in Florida. But it wasn’t long before trouble began brewing over the prize she had been promised.
    "After being led to the parking lot for what she thought was a new Toyota, the woman wound up with a Star Wars doll--a toy Yoda. She sued. . . .
    "Sounds odd? Well sounds can be odd, and linguists have plenty of labels for them. In the case of Toyota and toy Yoda, our brains are faced with 'oronyms'--virtually identical speech that can be interpreted in different ways. English is full of these devilish duos. For example, I scream versus ice cream, a notion versus an ocean, and some others versus some mothers."
    (Blair Shewchuk, "Mnopspteiche? Relax for a Spell." CBCNews.ca, Sep. 27, 2002)
  • Jeff Foxworthy's Oronyms
    "The comedian Jeff Foxworthy often uses oronyms in his Appalachian comedy routine, as when he uses a sentence with moustache: 'I moustache [must ask] you a question.'
    It occurred on a sadder day. [ Saturday]
    I can hear the night train [ rain].
    She took a nice [ an ice-] cold shower.
    Some others [ mothers] I've known are there.
    Don't pinch her ear [ rear].
    The stuffy nose [ stuff he knows] can be disturbing.
    The sons raise meat [ sun's rays meet]." (Rod L. Evans, Tyrannosaurus Lex: The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams, and Other Delightful and Outrageous Wordplay. Perigree, 2012)

Also Known As: mondegreen

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Oronym." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-oronym-1691461. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Oronym. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-oronym-1691461 Nordquist, Richard. "Oronym." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-oronym-1691461 (accessed April 1, 2023).