The Secret of the Circular Reference

In philosophy, where I learned about fallacies, circulus in probando was not mentioned.
Would that be because it is impossible to define circular reasoning without referring to circles or reasoning?
Pay no attention to me, I dropped that class.

I want to talk about the illogical beauty of words.

Let’s play a game.


Create a chain of words such that the first word points to the second, which points to the third and so on.
The link between each word is simple.
Each must be a homonym in another language. I made up a word, homonify, to describe the act of switching languages with the same word.
The object is to create a closed loop by having the final word point to the first.
I can’t do it, can you?

  • (French-English-Spanish-French) casserole, pan, pain

Translate casserole from French to English to get pan (cooking utensils, get it?)
Homonify pan from English to Spanish.
Translate pan from Spanish to French to get pain (bread, dear reader, bread!)
Pain is the end of the line for this unclosed link.

This is easy to track by using BabelFish. Type in the first word, select the language pair, hit the Translate button.

BabelFish Online Translator

Type in the next word (replacing the original), select a new language pair and translate.

It’s rather fun, in a Will Shortz kind of way.

Nothing Knew Under the Sun

I hunted around on the search engines and through wikipedia to see if there was a term for this linguistic lollygagging.
First, I typed “What do you call a word that means different things in two languages?” Yahoo shrugged, returning 0 matches. Google giggled.

I tried many different keywords, including made-up terms like panlexic and asked lots of silly questions.
Yahoo returned a number of interesting sites:

I learned parenthetical crap (such as the meaning of vocable.)
I also became side-tracked by another beautiful word association that has been kicking around upstairs for years.
Two well-known circular objects are Rolex and Rolodex. They are the same, obviously, except for the od.
OD has a decidedly Latin flavor, looking like the little brother of Q.E.D. So I asked Yahoo for a clue: latin definition of od.
Oddly enough, this result caught my eye:

Latin Definition of OD

The reason I wanted to work Rolex and Rolodex into this post, aside from their vocable similarity, is that they both refer to recollection and time.
Whereas, the Rolex recalls the passage of time, the Rolodex recalls trivial details stored over time.
While the Rolodex never forgets, it’s only as useful as the owner’s ability to remember that something was recorded.
On the other hand (you’ll pardon the pun), though the Rolex faithfully records time, it is only as useful as the owner’s ability to remember a scheduled appointment.

Okay, back on-topic. The word homonym finally jumped into my head.
Believe it or not, I typed the following search phrase into Yahoo:

HAL: Homonyms Across Languages

That was pretty cool.
The point is, you have to have patience when you are researching weird stuff on the web.
Sometimes, it’s the other way around: you have to have Yahoo to find patience!

I rest my case.

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