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Lamb vs lam

  • Lamb and lam are two commonly confused words that are pronounced in the same way when spoken aloud but are spelled differently and mean different things, which makes them homophones. Homophones exist because of our ever-changing English language, and are a challenge for those who wish to learn to speak English. The way the spelling and definitions differ can be confusing even to native English speakers when attempting to learn vocabulary correctly. Proper pronunciation of spoken English may help the listener distinguish between homophones; the words affect-effect are a good example, but the words to, too and two, or horse and hoarse, are indistinguishable from each other. Pronunciation is usually more ambiguous, as English pronunciation may vary according to dialect, and English spelling is constantly evolving. Pronunciation may change even though the spelling doesn’t, producing two words that are pronounced in the same manner but have different meanings such as night and knight. Phonological spelling and spelling rules do not always work, and most people avoid misspelling by studying vocabulary words from spelling lists, enhancing their literacy skills through spelling practice. English words are also spelled according to their etymologies rather than their sound. For instance, the word threw is derived from the Old English word thrawan, and the word through came from the Old English word thurh. Homophones are confusing words and are commonly misspelled words because of the confusion that arises from words that are pronounced alike but have very different usage and etymology. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake in English vocabulary, so do not relay on spell check but instead, learn to spell. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a homophone in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. We will examine the different meanings of the two homophonic words lamb and lam, the word origin of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.


     

    A lamb is a young sheep or the meat of a young sheep, which is a mammal raised for its wool, milk and meat. Lamb is often used figuratively to mean someone innocent or meek. Lamb comes from the Old English words lamb or lomb, which have Germanic origins. Lamb is spelled with a silent b at the end of the word, which is the work of sixteenth century scholars. At that time, linguists wanted to acknowledge the etymological origins of words in their spelling. During that time, the b was pronounced. Over the centuries, the b became silent, but the spelling remained.

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    In American English, lam is an escape, especially from authorities such as the police. The word lam is pickpocket slang, in use since the turn of the twentieth century. The word lam is nearly always used in the phrase on the lam, which means that one is a fugitive. In British English, lam means to strike or beat and has been in use since the 1500s.

    Examples

    Lamb prices have stabilised after some hefty corrections in the past month while exports to China, our biggest volume market, are continuing to go gangbusters. (Queensland Country Life)

    Most of the differences between lamb and mutton stem from the age of the animal. (The India Times)

    While on the lam, he released an incredible 63 albums on iTunes alone. (The Phoenix New Times)

    He considered talking to you about it, but you were never around, and it didn’t take him long to decide that anybody mean enough to treat a dog like that wasn’t worth talking to anyway, so he applied bolt cutter to chain, loaded her into his truck and went on the lam. (The Knoxville News Sentinel)


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