Nay vs neigh

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Nay and neigh are two commonly confused words that are pronounced in the same way when sp0ken aloud but are spelled differently and have different meanings, 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 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. However, 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. 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. Even a participant in a spelling bee will ask for an example of a homophone in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell. We will examine the definitions of the words nay and neigh, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Nay means no, or is a negative answer. Though nay is rare today, it still appears in legislative contexts (where a nay is a vote against a measure and a yea is a vote for a measure) and in the phrase yea or nay. Writers also sometimes use it as an archaic flourish. Synonyms of the word nay that may be found in a thesaurus are denial, negative, nope. The origin of the word nay is the Old Norse word nei, which means not ever.

Neigh is a rendering of a certain sound that a horse makes. Neigh is an onomatopoeia. An onomatopoeia is a word that is formed by imitating the sound of the thing or action being described. Such words are often used in imitative play by children, and onomatopoeia are commonly found in comic books. Though now a word in its own right, it is easy to understand the sound that the word neigh is imitating. Another equine vocalization that has become a word is whinny. Many animal sounds have prompted the creation of onomatopoeia words. Neigh may be used as a noun or a verb, related words are neighs, neighed, neighing. The word neigh is derived from the Old English word hnægan, which means to neigh.


Bloodlines: Golden Slipper prospect not one for the nay-sayers (The Sydney Morning Herald)

The city’s current Board of Architectural Review likely would say “nay” to that today. (The Charleston Post and Courier)

All of this means that within three short weeks voters will have the opportunity to say “yay” or “nay” on the future of the 110-year-old structure. (The Vail Daily)

Our trail guide rode a New Forest pony, and when she saw a herd, she neighed loud and long to them – like an ancestral song that only the ponies know. (The Newton Bee)

When they didn’t see each other, one neighed and the other answered, said Asuka Kobayashi, a member of the animal farm’s breeding staff, who cared for them for 16 years, from 1998 until their deaths. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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