Some homonyms, like "punch", originated in different languages with different spellings. The violent act "punch" comes from the English word "pounce", while the beverage "punch" comes from the Hindi word "pañc" (citation).

Is there a name for this phenomenon? It seems like the opposite of polysemy, in which a single word from a common origin takes on multiple related meanings.

  • I'm sorry but do you mean homophones?
    – KCH
    Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 22:10
  • @KCH OP's use of 'homonym' here seems standard. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 22:25
  • 1
    I've used 'convergent evolution' myself before now. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 22:25
  • A friend told me that "false cognate" might be the applicable term, though I feel like that's most commonly used for words in different languages. Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 2:53
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    I think the best word would be coincidence. There are only so many short words, it's inevitable that some different concepts will end up with similar words, and eventually evolve to the same ones.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 4:36

1 Answer 1


Homographs: a word of the same written form as another but of different meaning and usually origin, whether pronounced the same way or not, as bear 1 “to carry; support” and bear 2 “animal” or lead 1 “to conduct” and lead 2 “metal.”

  • While this fits, it's a bit too broad: I'm looking for the term that specifically means "homonyms with different origins". Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 15:50
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    @perimosocordiae Homonyms by the usual definition must have different origins. You appeared to be asking for a term for the morphological shifts that brought both Old English beran and Old English bera to 'bear' say; 'convergent evolution' (to homonyms) is the closest I can manage. Commented Apr 18, 2014 at 23:29
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    Homonyms and homographs are the result, he seems to be asking for a term for the process in language evolution that produces them.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 20, 2014 at 4:34

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