Polysemy is the capacity for a sign (e.g., a word, phrase, etc.) or signs to have multiple related meanings. Polysemes are usually regarded as distinct from homonyns, in which the multiple meanings of a word may be unconnected or unrelated. The state of being a homonym is called homonymy. Polysemous is the adjective from polysemy and means ‘having multiple meanings’. Its earliest documented use was in 1884.
In linguistics, a homonym is, in the strict sense, one of a group of words that share the same spelling and pronunciation but may have different meanings. Thus homonyms are simultaneously homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation) and homophones (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling).
Examples of homonyms are stalk (part of a plant) and stalk (follow/harass a person), and left (past tense of leave) and left (opposite of right).
A distinction is sometimes made between "true" homonyms, which are unrelated in origin, such as skate (glide on ice) and skate (the fish), and polysemous homonyms, or polysemes, which have a shared origin, such as mouth (of a river) and mouth (of an animal).
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