top of page

Know Your Homonyms! Animal Homophones, Part 2

This edition of Know Your Homonyms is part 2 of my miniseries on animal-related homophones (read Part 1 here). Here, I discuss the last 7 such pairs of homophones. Keep reading to learn the differences between these animal names and their like-sounding counterparts: gopher & gofer, gorilla & guerrilla, hart & heart, horse & hoarse, leech & leach, moose & mousse, and whale & wail.

Know Your Animal Homonyms: gopher vs. gofer, gorilla vs. guerrilla, hart vs. heart, horse vs. hoarse, leech vs. leach, moose vs. mousse, and whale vs. wail

Gopher vs. Gofer

Readers in the Americas (or just fans of the film Caddyshack) are likely familiar with gophers, the burrowing rodents endemic to that region. Readers from other continents, however, may not know much about these tunnel-happy critters, which are often considered pests due to their penchant for destroying farms and gardens (and golf courses).

A gopher munching on some carrot

A gofer, on the other hand, is a person who runs errands and/or fetches things for another person ("go-fer"). To remember the correct spelling for this usage, remember that both gofer and "fetch" contain the letters "fe" (in that order).

Here are a couple sample sentences:

The gopher at the petting zoo charms children by stuffing its cheeks full of seeds. The University of Minnesota has taken the golden gopher as its mascot. I spent the summer serving as a gofer for my uncle—picking up his lunches and laundry. Arnold is Betty's assistant, but he is no mere gofer; she greatly values his advice.

Gorilla vs. Guerrilla

If you've been to a major zoo, you've likely seen gorillas—the large primates that are one of the closest relatives of humans. They are highly intelligent, and some (such as Koko) have learned a simple sign language to communicate with people. The word gorilla has also come to refer an ugly or brutal man; I would strongly recommend avoiding this usage, however, as it is demeaning at best and a racial slur at worst.

Despite its identical pronunciation, the word guerrilla is unrelated to the animal, as you might have guessed based on its much different spelling. As a noun, this word refers to a person who engages in irregular warfare such as sabotage, harassment, booby traps, and sneak attacks; it is also an adjective referring to this type of warfare. Metaphorically, it has also been extended to refer to anything that is intended to be quick and sneaky (as in a guerrilla photo shoot). It is based on the Spanish word guerrilla (spelled the same but pronounced closer to guh-REE-ya), which means "little war."

Here are some sample sentences for these homophones:

Gorillas have been known to use tools and even weapons. Nathaniel took great offense at being called a gorilla but still tried to avoid the fight. The British army could not defeat the guerrillas due to their elusiveness and local support. The film was shot guerrilla style, quickly and without the necessary permits for public filming.

I keep these words' spellings straight by using the phrase "go ape" (for gorilla) and remembering that guerrillas typically are fighting against attempted conquerors.

Hart vs. Heart

A hart is a male deer (in addition to a last name). That word has no other meanings. I'm sure you know all about heart, which of course refers to the organ that pumps your blood. Heart also refers to the center or innermost part of something (a metaphorical extension of the organ's central location in the body), as in "the heart of the matter." In addition, it metaphorically refers to compassion or love (as anyone familiar with The Wizard of Oz will no doubt know). There are also some common expressions with heart, including "at heart," which means "in essence" (as in a poet at heart), "by heart," which means "from memory" (as in I know the lyrics by heart), and "to heart," which means "with deep concern" (as in take the advice to heart).

From the trail, I spotted a hart with magnificent antlers at the top of the next ridge. Millions of Americans suffer from heart disease, the country's #1 cause of death. I prefer the green outer leaves of the romaine lettuce to the yellow leaves in the heart. Even 15 years after his last performance, Ian knew his lines from "Macbeth" by heart.

Horse vs. Hoarse

I'm sure I don't need to explain what a horse is, even though that animal is merely common now, rather than ubiquitous (as it was before trains and cars, when it was the primary mode of transport in many parts of the world. The word horse also refers to a structure with four legs that is used to hold something up (as in a sawhorse). There are also many, many slang terms and sayings based on this word (click the links to learn more).

You have probably also heard the adjective hoarse in reference to a person's voice. It refers to a voice that is rough-sounding, typically because a person either is sick or has damaged their throat by speaking too much or too loudly. I remember this spelling based on its similarity to the word "roar" (as roaring can certainly make one's voice hoarse).

Here are some sample sentences:

With proper training and equipment, anyone can learn to ride a horse well. Mike's favorite part of gymnastics is swinging himself around on the pommel horse. After cheering on the team for two hours, Nina's voice was quite hoarse.

Leech vs. Leach

Leeches are the segmented worms that are notorious for attaching themselves to other animals and feeding on their blood. They were commonly used for medicinal purposes prior to the advent of modern medicine (as removing a person's blood was thought to cure various ailments). This practice gave English the verb form of leech, which means "to cause to bleed" or "to feed off of." Metaphorically, a leech is also a person who hangs onto someone else and benefits from being around that person (but who doesn't do anything to help that person).

Leach is a verb that is often confused with the verb form of leech because it can mean "to remove (important contents) from," which is similar to that other verb's meaning. The important thing to remember is that leach comes from the chemical process of removing a chemical or mineral from a substance by percolating it (shaking it a lot, essentially); indeed, this word commonly means "to percolate."

Here are some sample sentences:

Scientists have found some limited medical benefits to the use of leeches for some patients. I need a place to stay, but I don't want to leech off of you, so I will pay you rent. Potatoes are quite healthy, but frying them in oil leaches the nutrients from them. The chemist leached the soil samples of their key minerals using a percolator.

To distinguish between these homophones, I note the similarity between leech and "bleed", as well as that between leach and "leak" (after all, leaching does basically cause the key chemicals to "leak" out).

Moose vs. Mousse

The moose (the animal) is a large hoofed animal known for its huge antlers. By contrast, mousse (the type of dessert) is a spongy and/or foamy concoctions made from whipping various ingredients (often including sugar, eggs, and cream). To remember the difference, note that a moose is similar to a cow, which makes a "moo" sound.

Here are some examples:

When driving in Alaska, it is important to watch out for moose, as hitting one can ruin a car. The restaurant's chocolate-cherry mousse is a truly decadent dessert.

Whale vs. Wail

Finally, consider the whale—the ocean-dwelling mammal famed for its size. By extension, this word can also refer to anything that is notably large, often in the expression "a whale of a ___" (meaning "a very large or impressive ___"; e.g., it was a whale of a party).

On the other hand, the word wail refers to a mournful cry (often one that is loud and piercing), or, less extremely, to a complaint. Wail is also a verb that means "to cry, to mourn, or to complain."

To remember the difference, I recommend thinking about how I might wail if I "fail" a test and about how I might "exhale" in wonder if I see a whale. See these examples:

The blue whale is so large that its heart is about the size of a large recliner. After winning the lottery, Lena made a whale of a donation to the Boys and Girls Club. The mourners let out a collective wail when the funeral procession passed them. Despite his wailing, Inigo could not get his teacher to raise his grade from a C+ to a B-.

That's all for Part 2 of the animal edition of Know Your Homonyms! Please let me know if you need any additional explanation, or if you have suggestions for other homonyms to cover in future posts. You can leave a comment below or email me at Thank you for reading, and please visit the next time you need high-quality editing services.



bottom of page