homo and hetero

Have I got your attention?

No, this post is not about sexual preferences; it’s about the prefixes homo and hetero, which derive from the Greek homos (“one and the same”) and heteros (“other”). Thus, homogenize means to make uniform or “the same” throughout, whereas something that is heterogeneous consists of dissimilar elements or parts. 

The prefix homo, used in words such as homoerotic and homophobia, differs from the Latin homo, which refers to a genus of primate mammals of the Hominidae family that includes modern humans (H. sapiens) and several extinct related species (such as H. erectus and H. habilis). (Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) (Homo legalis (or legalis homo) is a “lawful” person who has not been deprived of any rights.1)

Homophones are words that are pronounced alike but differ “in meaning or derivation or spelling,” such as rap and wrap.

Homonyms are spelled and pronounced the same but differ in meaning.

“Turn right at the next street.”
“You are right and I am wrong.”

“You lie!”
“Don’t just lie there!”

Heterographs are words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently; homographs are spelled the same but have different meanings. Thus, the words bare (adjective; a bare cupboard) and bear (verb; bear right at the fork in the road) are homophones and heterographs; bear (noun; a bear in the woods) and bear (verb; bear a burden) are homonyms, homographs, and homophones.

If you are unsure about the correct usage, spelling, or meaning of a word, take a moment to look it up before pressing the “send” or “publish” button!


1 – Legal definitions change over time, as laws change and rights (e.g., to own property, to serve on a jury) are recognized—or not—for different classifications (based on race, gender, age, etc.) of people. The age of majority, for example, can be different for different purposes (such as purchasing or publicly consuming alcoholic beverages, enlisting in the military, or voting) or in different jurisdictions. Rights can also be lost, as happens when someone is convicted of a felony.