Homonyms

SCHWEIZ, GLOCKE, GLOCKEN, GLOCKENGUSS,

I love when people inadvertenly use homonyms of words with completely different meanings producing a comic effect.  If you need multiple examples look up the hashtag on twitter #heardnotread.  They are real life examples of things people have written down, spelling them wrong, because they heard them spoken, but did not think through what they were hearing.

Bells ring.  When you make a bell it is “tuned” to a note.  The way you tune a bell is to take metal off on a lathe.  A tuner matches the bell to its “true” tone and grinds away the metal until the bell “rings true”.  We use the phrase “to ring true” to assess if something is on point or if it is a bit off.  I might assess a business plan for an investment and if I think something does not seem right, but I can’t exactly put my finger on it, I might say that something about this proposal does not “ring true”.

A bank manager assessing a loan application might look at a person, their education, their career, their house location, the car they drive, and feel that something about the person does not ring true.  The person in front of them does not match what you expect from the details supplied.  Something is “off”.  For the bank manager this represents a risk.

When cash registers were invented they were a form of control on staff theft.  Before the arrival of the cash register all pricing had to be simple, because sales of multiple items had to be added up either in your head, or on a piece of paper.  With simple maths a dishonest employee could manipulate sales to cheat the shop owner or the customer and pocket cash.  With an automatic cash register the shop owner could set complex prices involving fractions of units such as old money prices like 1s 4 1/2 d which is one shilling (12 pence) and four and a half pence, so 16 and a half pence.  If the next item is thruppence farthing (3 and a quarter of a penny) you can see that the maths begin to get complicated.

As a further staff control the register manufacurers introduced a further feature.  A bell that rang each time a sale item was added.  The shop owner could lurk behind a shelf and make sure that the number of rings on the register tallied to the items in the basket, so the clerk was not handing out freebies to friends and family.

From the introduction of the cash register we got the concept of “ringing up” a sale.  And some clerks would use a homonym of ring true and say something like “if you come over to this register I will ring you through”.  Ring true – ring through.  Sounds the same.  Totally different meaning.

Then the phone was invented, along with switchboards to connect calls.  An operator connecting your call would usually say something like “I’ll put you through now” but some also said, because the phone used to have a bell “I’ll ring you through”.

Now we have three meanings for ring true/through.

Then someone decided to attach buzzers to automatic doors.  You arrive at an apartment block and call the resident on the intercom.  To let you in they need to unlock the front door automatically.  They might say “I’ll buzz you in” or they sometimes say “I’ll ring you through”.  Doors have bells.  Bells ring.  Ring through.

When it becomes funny for me is when I get an email from someone about a business case and they say “What do you think on this?  Something doesn’t ring through for me.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls; by John Donne

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

Sprite

Lutine Bell in Lloyd's of London

Lutine Bell in Lloyd’s of London

The french word “lutin” is translated as “imp” in English.  The feminine form is usually translated as a “sprite”. In truth the realm of the faery world is poorly understood by humans and it is difficult to nail down exactly what a sprite is.  Sprites can be fairies, imps, pixies, elves, dryads and so on.

To my mind the correct translation of Lutine should be Nymph, a nubile female spirit who is associated with water.  There were nymphs associated with lakes, pools and rivers, but also nymphs of the sea.  The most famous of these were the Nereids and in particular Thetis, who married Peleus and gave birth to Achilles.

The name Lutine was given to a frigate of the Royal French Navy.  Originally called the “St Jean” she was berthed at Toulon during the siege that made the reputation of Napoleon.  The British under Admiral Hood took the ship and renamed her the HMS Lutine.

In Oct 1799 the Lutine was carrying gold bullion to Germany when she went aground on a sandbank in the West Frisian Islands.  She sank with total loss of crew and cargo with only one survivor from a crew and passengers numbering over 240.  Also lost was the shipment of gold.  Despite many attempts only a fraction of the bullion has been recovered.

Some timbers from the ship were salvaged and made into a chair for the Chairman at Lloyd’s who bore the insurance.  Also salvaged was the Lutine bell, which hangs in Lloyd’s to this day, where it marks especially important occasions.

Originally the Lutine Bell was rung to mark the fate of an overdue vessel to the trading community, so that everyone would get the information at the same time.  It rang once for a loss and twice for a safe return.  The bell now has a crack and the practice of ringing for returned ships has ceased.

During the second world war the German propagandist Lord Haw Haw quipped that the Lutine bell never stopped ringing during the war of the Atlantic.  In actual fact it rang only once during the war, when the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.

……………………John Donne

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