MOW

I am starting a series of poems that use heteronyms in the title.  Heteronyms are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently when the meaning changes.  For instance, tear.  A tear fell from my eye when I heard the fabric of my dress tear. 

Some words are homophones, like knight and night.  They sound the same but mean something different.  Heteronyms are more interesting because their pronunciation changes as well as their meaning.  Of course, this can pose a challenge for readers if the word is used in an ambiguous way such as in the title of a poem:   Tear is not a Simple Word

Last Saturday I was at the Art Institute of Chicago.  From small town to big city in three hours.  Just point your car toward the Southeast and soon enough, there is O’Hare International Airport – ORD – one of the largest in the country in terms of moving huge numbers of passengers and waylaying luggage (mine, April 2011). 

And then there’s that cluster of skyscrapers in the distance – John Hancock is my favorite.  I love the two antennas that stick up off its roof like they are signaling to space aliens.  By now my heart is really humming.  Then suddenly we are off the freeway and into a funky neighborhood heading East on Ohio toward Michigan Avenue and there is Millennium Park and, ta dah, the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Inside, I snagged a docent tour of Ab X art – abstract expressionists – starting with Jackson Pollock.  Toward the end of the tour the docent showed us Andy Warhol’s gigantic silkscreen print of Mao Zedong.  It’s fabulous.  There is Mao in his grey jacket emerging from great swatches of paint and he’s made up in drag with pink cheeks and blue eye shadow.  And it is huge.  No small life size portrait like Warhol’s multiple Marilyns.  Mao’s dimensions are 176 ½ inches by 136 ½ inches.  That’s over 14 feet tall.  Powerful.

When I got home, I asked my husband how he would pronounce MOW.  He said, mmm – ow, which rhymes with cow.  It could be pronounced mmm-o, like the word low (long o sound), as in, “Please mow the lawn.”  But we call our cat MOW when he’s being noisy and making those loud, demanding MOW sounds.  His name is Rio (rhymes with chee-o), which is a heteronym for the town of Rio, Wisconsin (long i sound like ri-ot).   

So for us, Mao and Mow are homophones, words that sound the same but with different meanings.  Sadly, however, not everyone recognizes the Mow that rhymes with cow.  There is a website called Rhymer at www.rhymer.com.  When I entered Mow, all of the words that are listed rhyme with JELLO.

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