Strict Synonymy


Say whether you think that “strict synonymy” occurs is English, giving examples to illustrate your agreement or disagreement with this concept.


There are two ways in which one may speak of synonymy. Generally, when one speaks of synonymy, it is with reference to the relationship between two predicates, which have the same sense. The word “synonymy” derives from Greek in two parts “syn” + “nymy”, meaning same name. As this would suggest synonymy deals with the sameness of meaning, that is, more than one word having the same meaning or alternatively the same meaning being expressed by more than one name.


Now in the English language this concept is utilized widely as there are countless things or concepts that exist that the English language describes or identifies by more than one name. However, this description of synonymy is referred to as “loose synonymy”. An example of such would be the relationship between the words “discover” and “find”. It is said that these words are synonyms because they are often used interchangeably but not always.


There is however, another concept called “strict synonymy” or “perfect synonymy”. This is a much more exclusive definition of synonymy in that is referrers to a relationship between two words in which two words are usable interchangeably in all sentence contexts. Examples of perfect synonymy are very difficult to find and it is even suggested by many linguists that synonymy of such a nature does not exist in language at all.


Considering these two descriptions, one could argue that while synonymy in it’s loose definition is quite extensive within the English language; strict synonymy is extremely rare or maybe even non-existent. While there are many pars and in some cases triplets of lexemes, which generally have the same sense, most, if not all of these can be used in at least one sentence context where they are not interchangeable.


When one speaks of synonymy in English, immediately several pairs of words can be listed, for example the words “hard” and “difficult”, “hide and conceal”, or “start and begin”.


Frequently when these words are used, they are used in such ways or contexts that they could easily be substituted for each other. For example, in the sentence context I had to hide the package or I had to conceal the package, the two words are no doubt synonymous, however, it is possible to use both of these words in sentence contexts where they are not interchangeable, which would then mean that according to the standards of “strict synonymy” the two words are not synonymous.


There are two arguments against strict synonymy. The first is an issue of economy and the second is it’s historical counterpart. In relation to economy, it would not be economical in English or any language for that matter to tolerate two words, which are totally synonymous. Due to the fact that the English lexicon has been historically built from different sources, including Anglo Saxon, French, Latin and Greek, the language contains a great deal of synonymy, however in the occurrence of a pair of lexemes which are totally synonymous English, like any other language cannot afford this, especially not in profusion.


On the historical side, wherever there were instances of strict synonymy, tha language did not tolerate it for any length of time. Through different processes English has managed to wipe out or limit strict synonymy.


In some of the instances in English where two words have identical meanings, it has happened that one word or term is adopted and the other discarded. For example, when English had the words “aerodrome” and “airport”, which awere absolutely identical, as well as the words “wireless” and “ radio”, in each case the latter of the pair was retained it the language while the first was discarded.


In other instances one of the words in the pari would be eventually used in a different context from the other word. For example when “mouton” was borrowed into English from French in the medical periods, it was absolutely synonymous with sheep. Both words still exist win the English lexicon, however the language has altered the sense of mutton slightly, in that it is now specialized, referring only to the meat of the animal consumed as food, while the animal itself continues to be referred to by the Anglo Saxon word