I Think I’m Getting Homonymphobia

The six or seven readers of this blog (maybe I’m being too optomistic) may be getting tired of my harping on the frequency of (AARGH!) homonym mistakes in either “The Fayetteville Observer” or other publications of note.  Well, news for you, I am not. Har.

Here’s the latest, and one that has appeared at least twice more in recent times.

This time, let me put you to work.

A story with the byline of a “Staff writer” in today’s (12/23/08) “Local & State” section reported the assault charges against a 17-year-old Jack Britt High School student for striking a teacher and a school resource officer on December 15.

A statement from Debbie Tanna, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, according to the writer, had her making this comment about the teenager’s punching the teacher repeatedly:  “‘He just started [wailing or whaling?] on this teacher,'” Tanna said.'”

The question again arises also about the editing of spoken language.  Why?  Because these two words, though offered as homonymns, actually are in most American speakers’ dialect phonologically different.  So, did Ms. Tanna say “wailing” or did she say “whaling”?  What spelling, you think, did the staff writer choose? Or did she make an uninformed choice, which would not be a “choice” at all?

A sharp ear could distinguish the difference. But could the staff writer? Could I?  Could you?

Looking for some help here.  Thanks.



11 Responses to “I Think I’m Getting Homonymphobia”

  1. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Context shows that “whaling” is the correct word. If the writer were quoting a misuse of the word “wailing” she should have used quotation marks or just given the speaker the benefit of the doubt and spelled it correctly.

    BTW, where should the “,” go in the above sentence? Before or after the closing quotation mark?

  2. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Quotation marks on the word alone or the complete quotation? Neither of these words fit the situation. Whaling is something you won’t find in Hope Mills Lake. This is more of a slang for lack of another word but the reader can get the picture of the action taken.

  3. Daryl Cobranchi Says:

    “Whaling” is the correct form.

    whale (hw?l, w?l) pronunciation

    v., whaled, whal·ing, whales.


    To strike or hit repeatedly and forcefully; thrash.

    To attack vehemently: The poet whaled away at the critics.

  4. Daryl Cobranchi Says:


    The question mark goes outside the quotation marks.

  5. Daryl Cobranchi Says:

    And in a complete aside, I’ll admit that I first read the title something like this:

    “I Think I’m Getting Homo -nymphobia.” I thought that Raymond was afraid of lots of gay sex.

  6. Forest Crump Says:

    I could be at the Wailing Wall, wailing away or I could be on a whaling ship, whaling away. In one instance, I am crying and in the other, I am trying to inflict harm. The student could be either crying on his teacher or trying to harpoon him or her—thar she blows.

  7. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Frank and Daryl:

    There should be a comma after the word “wailing” in the second sentence. I never know whether to put it inside or outside the quote marks.

    Daryl: I do solemnly affirm that I saw the word the same way! But if you break it down, it could be ‘fear of beautiful human maidens’ as opposed to fear of the mythical kind.

    Merry Christmas to all!

  8. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    In MY second sentence not the perfessor’s.

  9. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    After a leason in “whaling” one can may come away a better person. Not in this case but for those that believe in a old fashion thrashing or whopping! The one doing the “whaling” gets the other end of the leason. Does that go back to ” It’s hurting me worst than you”, from those that do the “whaling”. The “whaling” of students is a thing of the past and we’re in a new age of reasoning and the old ways are left BEHIND. I often enbarrass myself with my lack of proper useage and correct understanding. Maybe the perfessor can keep us in line! Right Marshall!!

  10. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Yes Frank, and we’ll have to take him to bfast to get the benefit of his wisdom!

    Again, Merry Christmas to all!

  11. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Thanks and a Merry Christmas to you and to all have a great Holiday!!

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