ho made

From Roy Calfas on Facebook, who got it from Captain Grammar Pants:

Commenter Ilene Giambastiani on the Captain Grammar Pants Facebook site:

They could spell apple and butter, but they couldn’t figure out how to spell home? Boggles the mind.

Well, actually, the question is: how do you spell /hòméd/ (which is how most people pronounce homemade / home-made most of the time)?

What evidence bears on the matter? First, there is the phonology, and if that’s the only evidence we have to go on, the main possibilities are HOMADE, HOEMADE, HOMAID, or HOEMAID — all of which treat the word as an unanalyzable whole.

But the accent pattern ` ´ suggests that it’s a compound, and the semantics of the word suggests that the second portion, /med/, is the verb form made, spelled MADE. What, then, of the first portion? Just chopping it out of the whole word gives /ho/, which would be spelled HO or HOE; HO is the shorter spelling, and that’s what the writer of the sign hit on. The first portion might or might not be meaningful — composite words are very often partially or entirely opaque semantically — so the first portion could conceivably be the ho of ho! ho! ho!, or the ho of bros before hos (or even hoe), but none of these makes any sense in the context of food (though the second possibility is entertaining). So /ho/ would just be a chunk with unclear meaning.

But commentator Giambastiani assumes that the first portion is in fact an instance of the word home, with simplification of /m.m/ (where . indicates a syllable boundary) to /.m/. Presumably she does this because she knows the standard spelling of the word, in which a first element home is visible. But what analysis will someone who’s unsure about the standard spelling come up with?

People who are sure of the standard spelling are convinced that it’s correct because the word means ‘made at home’; that is, they believe that the word is semantically transparent, compositional. See the definition in NOAD2: ‘made at home, rather than in a store or factory’. In fact, it has long been extended in ordinary usage, and (from a posting on house-made):

Literalists have long complained about home-made on menus, on the grounds that it means ‘made at home, made in someone’s home’ and so shouldn’t be used for food that is prepared in a restaurant’s kitchens (much less for something brought in from elsewhere, made it a factory, or bought in a store); this is the meaning given in most dictionaries. Nonetheless, an extended use for ‘made in-house’ has been around for some time.

What’s happened is that most people have extended the sense of homemade so that it’s no longer closely connected to homes and merely means ‘not store-bought’. (Meanwhile, restaurants have innovated housemade for this sense, maybe picking up some cachet in the process.) What that means is that homemade has become significantly opaque, and the way is open for some of those who are unsure of the standard spelling — many more than the sign writer above — to fall back on ear spelling.

Yes, the spelling on the sign is wrong, and titillating for some readers, but it’s not a shot in the dark.

(There are also instances of homemade intentionally spelled HO-MADE or HO MADE, as deliberate “simplified spellings”, intended to be playful, ostentatious, folksy, or some combination of these.)

2 Responses to “ho made”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Tim Evanson on Google+:

    I once saw a sign at a farmer’s market about “Lo Cal Corn”. People were buying it by the bushel, thinking it was low-calorie…

    There are probably more examples of this sort of orthographic syllable division.

  2. Jonathon Owen Says:

    One of my favorite hand-made signs said “Field dirt wanted”. I drove past it for weeks wondering what was special about dirt from a field before finally realizing that it was “fill dirt wanted”. In Utah, many people lax their vowels before /l/, so “fill” and “feel” are homophonous. But in this case, rather than omitting a geminate consonant, they added an extra one.

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