I'm looking for a word to refer to the visual appearance of a word only. I'll use an example to help explain what I mean:

"bow" can refer to the action of bowing to someone, or to a bow that I add when wrapping a gift. "bow" and "bow" are homographs because they are spelled the same way, though they have different meanings and pronunciations, and we consider them two different words.

Then, define a "qword" as an ordered set of letters (and diacritical marks) combined according to the conventions of English.

"bow" and "bow" are two different words, but the same qword, since they are both "b", "o", and "w" combined in the same way and in the same order.

And "résumé" and "resume" are different qwords since they appear differently in written English, though people often write "resume" when they mean "résumé", and we have no trouble understanding what they mean.

Is there an existing English noun that means the same thing as "qword"? If there is none, a compound word or phrase would also be fine.

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    I may be missing something, but isn't what you call a qword called a spelling?
    – jxh
    Sep 11, 2019 at 0:34
  • @jxh you're not wrong! But I don't think they're quite the same. "spelling" refers to a particular way to represent a word, and words can have multiple spellings, e.g. "donut" and "doughnut", though I think most people would consider them to be the same word. I don't intend to be terribly picky, but I'd rather invent a new word than use "spelling" as-is for what I mean. Sep 11, 2019 at 18:58
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    I've seen 'mathematical word' used to represent any string of letters bounded by blank spaces. Thus there are 120 permutations of the letters of the mathematical word aghek. // Though bow1 and bow2 are homographs, we don't say " 'Bow' is a homograph" (ie 'homograph' is not 'qword'). Sep 12, 2019 at 13:23
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    Linguistics has the term word-form. Distinct word-forms may belong to the same lexeme. Compiler theory, a computer science topic, uses a lexer, to perform tokenization.
    – jxh
    Sep 14, 2019 at 14:03

2 Answers 2


bow is a "string", to start with.

We are looking at "meaningful strings" in the context of the English language.

A "meaningful string" can have more than one meaning.

To be precise we could say a "meaningful character string".


Homograph is what you want:

What are homonyms, homophones, and homographs? Homonym can be troublesome because it may refer to three distinct classes of words. Homonyms may be words with identical pronunciations but different spellings and meanings, such as to, too, and two. Or they may be words with both identical pronunciations and identical spellings but different meanings, such as quail (the bird) and quail (to cringe). Finally, they may be words that are spelled alike but are different in pronunciation and meaning, such as the bow of a ship and bow that shoots arrows. The first and second types are sometimes called homophones, and the second and third types are sometimes called homographs--which makes naming the second type a bit confusing. Some language scholars prefer to limit homonym to the third type.


From MW

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    Thanks for the answer! That said, this answer isn't super helpful because I already use "homograph" in my question. To the best of my understanding, all homograph are words, and "bow" and "bow" (two separate words for two separate meanings) would both be considered homographs. I'm looking for a word that would make no distinction between the two. Sep 11, 2019 at 18:49
  • Then why did you ask? Look it up.
    – Xanne
    Sep 11, 2019 at 19:54
  • uh, not sure what you're trying to say. I tried to look it up, but didn't find anything, and so I decided to ask here, in hopes that someone else would know more than I did. Sep 12, 2019 at 0:50

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