Guest: Can I see the menu please?

Waitress: The men I please is none of your business.

A funny exchange in a restaurant where "the menu please" is  misunderstood for "the men you please".

These two phrases are homophonic (note: prosody-wise there may be slight differences). They are so-called oronyms because they sound the same but are spelled differently - often because of different boundary assignment. In this case, the ambiguity between menu and men you is fueled by the word please that can act as both a verb and an adverb. Some more examples:

  • ice cream - I scream
  • the stuff he knows -the stuffy nose

Now that we are at it, let's look at a few more word types in English:

  • Homophones are words pronounced alike but different in meaning and/or spelling. A simple example is "to, two, too." These are three different words but all sound the same.
  • Homographs are words that are spelled alike but are different in meaning and/or pronunciation. A simple example is "I am going to record a record". One is a verb the other a noun. 
  • Homonyms is the more generic term covering both of the above.
  • Portmanteau words are words made by combining two or more other words eg smog = fog + smoke. The term portmanteau word for such blends goes back (once again) to the  acclaimed author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll.
  • Mondegreens are words or phrase that result from a mishearing especially of a song. The term goes back to a mishearing in a Scottish ballad of "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen". So next time you get entangled in discussion about homophonic phrases in English, this is you chance to shine!
  • Spoonerisms are word groups containing words whose first letters are flipped. They are named after Reverend Spooner who was notoriously prone to this mistake. The author Roald Dahl frequently uses spoonerisms, for example, 'Dahl's Chickens', where he brilliantly merges his own name into his favourite author's one.
  • Heterograms are words that do not have any repeated letters. For example, the word "subdermatoglyphic."

  • Isograms are words or phrases in which no letter occurs more than once. The word "ambidextrously" is an example.

  • Tautograms are sentences or phrases in which every word starts with the same letter. For example, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."