What's That Flat?


Two words or phrases with the same spelling are used with different pronunciations and meanings. Examples: tarry , tarry ; Mount St. Helens, mounts the lens; mustache, must ache. Unlike most flats, heteronyms need not have bases that are dictionary entries—in fact, long, contrived phrases are welcome as long as they are well clued in the verse.

“Heteronymic” also refers to changes in word breaks, even if pronunciation doesn’t change: cargo/ car go. Examples may be found in cryptic clueing, picture puzzles, and the heteronymy of a rebus’s reading and answer. A base in which sounds, letters, and spacing remain unchanged, as in bear (carry), bear (ursine), and Bear (CA river), is called an identity homonym, and should be avoided.