General Question

applesaucemanny's avatar

Why do we pronounce bass and bass differently?

Asked by applesaucemanny (1775points) June 20th, 2009

like bass the fish and bass the instrument?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

28 Answers

DeanV's avatar

To remove confusion about people playing fish or vice versa.

I dunno. Probably goes a long way back, though.

joooon's avatar
This is why the English language is so difficult to learn!

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to
present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.

11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13. They were too close to the door to close it.

14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18. After a number of injections my jaw got number.

19. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

20. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

21. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

peyton_farquhar's avatar

I’m quite embarassed that only a week or so ago I found out that, when refering to the instrument, bass is pronounced base and is spelled b a s s. You are not alone in your confusion.

lillycoyote's avatar

@joooon and don’t forget words like laughter, daughter, etc.
and applesauce, here’s a link It doesn’t address bass and bass specifically but it might help answer your question.

applesaucemanny's avatar

@lillycoyote oh okay I get it now, well at least a little better

DominicX's avatar

Because the two words have different origins. One comes from Latin, the other comes from German.

Also, because it’s English and we like to make pronunciation as difficult as possible.

marinelife's avatar

Want to bend your brain? Read this whole article, excerpted below:

“Heteronyms are a type of homograph. They are words that are spelled the same but differ in meaning and pronunciation. All heteronyms are also homographs, but not all homographs are heteronyms. Many heteronyms are similar in meaning (especially a related noun and verb are spelled the same but pronounced differently), while others are wholly unrelated.”

This article gives some explanation, but like many things with English, there is no single explanation. Often, the words with different pronunciations are different parts of speech (although not your “He went bass fishing after he finished practicing his bass” example). Other times, it may indicate different foreign word origins.

Shrug and enjoy the oddities is about all one can do.

Tink's avatar

Haha I say bass like face

lillycoyote's avatar

@Marina thanks for the link, the second one. I looked around the site a little and now I know all my nyms!

Lupin's avatar

Just curious… Which one did you say first when you read the question?
I said the instrument and then the fish. It didn’t occur to me I was doing anything strange.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Lupin I did the same. Instrument first, then fish.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Language is weird.. as others have mentioned, there are lots of such oddities in English. The first one that came to mind was bow and bow.. as in take a bow, or bow and arrow. :)

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Fish, then instrument

sandystrachan's avatar

I catch live bass and eat them onstage where i live playing my bass .
I love the fact that things are spoken differently even tho they are spelled the same , its a strange thing i will never get .

Jeruba's avatar

Fish, then instrument.

Frankly, I am tired of harangues about the difficulty of English and the endless cute lists of seeming anomalies. I have been seeing them all my life, and I thought they were unnecessary the first time. (This is not to pick on you, @joooon. I just wish wordists would busy themselves with something else.)

English is an amalgam of languages and logics, but it is not deliberately made difficult by anyone. I think its breadth and variety are its glory. Its many synonyms and near-synonyms permit subtlety, nuance, and steely precision in ordinary dialogue and poetry alike, and its hospitality to imports from all languages, including its own slang, street talk, and jargon and reimports from itself through metaphor and recasting of word functions, means that it is infinitely expansible. It has a cosmic beauty. One might as well complain that asteroids are not stars.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

And is it any wonder why Jeruba has ten thousand lurve points. I say give her double what she has, she deserves it.—to paraphrase a line from Monty Python: “Jeruba, Jeruba, Jeruba, we love you!!!!”

cookieman's avatar

fish, then instrument

@Jeruba: I nominate you as official Fluther muse.

joooon's avatar

I feel bad for getting so many luves, I knew about most of these anyway but I copied this from yahoo answers, I was being lazy. I’m well versed in this because when I was learning English this is something I complained about a lot.

mattbrowne's avatar

I read the comments of this thread and it was a good read.

Jeruba's avatar

Very subtle, @mattbrowne. And that does remind me of a question posed by some professor I had: “An important report has arrived on your desk, and your instructions are to send it out as quickly as possible. Your boss has attached a one-word note: ‘Proofread.’ Do you proofread it or not?”

Where there’s actual ambiguity, homographs can be troublesome, but usually there are context clues to help us out. “Read” is one of the very few words for which I might concede the value of spelling reform.

@joooon, please don’t feel bad. Obviously people enjoyed your list, even though it made me feel crabby enough to write a mini-diatribe. One way or another, there’s something to think about in this thread.

DominicX's avatar


I don’t think anyone is claiming that it is made difficult on purpose; that doesn’t make much sense, since a language usually just happens, it isn’t designed by one particular person. And finding the confusing pronunciations and inconsistencies within it “glorious” is simply a matter of preference. I don’t think those lists are “necessary” as much as they are entertaining. I happen to much prefer languages that are more consistent, such as Latin or Italian. My personal preference. I don’t have to like the way English is. Frankly, I do like it for many reasons, but there are many things I don’t like about it. No language is perfect. I don’t like the fact that we have some words spelled the same way and pronounced differently, I don’t like the fact that we have no word for the plural “you”, I don’t like the fact that verb forms are extremely inconsistent and most verbs have very little change in their form, I don’t like the fact that we did away with more variation in the language (like abolishing “thou”, “thee”, and the -th and -st suffixes for verb conjugation), I don’t like the way we allow any pronunciation to fly (like the dreadful “pointsetta”), etc. And I’m sick of being called an “elitist” or a “language snob” for thinking these things.

But that doesn’t mean I hate the language. Anyone has a right to point out things they don’t like in a language. Just my personal preference.

Jeruba's avatar


“Also, because it’s English and we like to make pronunciation as difficult as possible.”

DominicX's avatar


Joke. I thought that was pretty obvious. The only thing that was missing was the ”:P” at the end of that. I’m a future linguistics major. Obviously, I know that people don’t try to make it difficult. In fact, it doesn’t even take someone interested in language to know that. It wasn’t meant to be taken so literally. I was commenting on the fact that with all the inconsistencies and difficulties, it seems like someone is doing it on purpose to mess with people.

Jeruba's avatar

Guess it wasn’t quite so obvious to me, @DominicX. I tend to assume that people mean what they say unless they give clear signals to the contrary (or unless I know them well and understand that they have to be joking). I would consider it very rude to laugh at a serious remark.

morphail's avatar

“bass” meaning “low sound” is related to “base” – they used to be the same word. The spelling of “bass” is influenced by Italian “basso”, but it is still pronounced like “base”.

“bass” the fish is from Old English “bærs” – the R was lost but the vowel stayed the same.

wundayatta's avatar

One’s a fish and the other’s a cello on steroids. Or Barry White.

DominicX's avatar

@Jeruba This is for you. :)

Let’s face it, English is a stupid language.
There is no egg in the eggplant.
No ham in the hamburger.
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England.
And French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted.
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly,
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don’t fing?
If the plural of tooth is teeth,
Shouldn’t the plural of phone booth be phone beeth?
If the teacher taught,
Why didn’t the preacher praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables,
What the heck does a humanitarian eat?
Why do people recite at a play,
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways and
Drive on parkways?
How can the weather be as hot as hell on one day
And as cold as hell on another?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as
It burns down.
And in which you fill in a form,
By filling it out.
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers.
And it reflects the creativity of the human race.
(Which of course isn’t a race at all)

That is why,
When the stars are out, they are visible
But when the lights are out, they are invisible
And it’s why when I wind up my watch,
It starts.
But when I wind up this poem,
It ends.

Tink's avatar

@DominicX That was deep dude :)

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