Two Kinds of Homage

By Maeve Maddox

Way back in elementary school when we learned about feudalism, we were told that the medieval vassal paid homage to his lord.

My teachers pronounced the word homage: [hom-ij].
Note: Some English speakers don’t pronounce the h in this homage.

When I became interested in movie criticism, I came across the word homage in connection with the practice of incorporating a name or a scene or a bit of dialogue from an old movie within a new production. When I read the word in my head, I pronounced it [hom-ij].

The first time I heard the pronunciation [oh-mazh] in an interview with someone from the film industry, I thought I was hearing a new word. I soon realized that when movie people talk about homage, they give it a French pronunciation. That’s when I realized that homage is a kind of heteronym.

heteronym: A word having the same spelling as another, but a different sound and meaning.

Both versions have to do with showing respect for someone or something, but the latter is used in the context of art.

In general use, homage now means “acknowledgement of superiority in respect of rank, worth, beauty, or some other quality.” It’s usually used in the expression “to pay homage to.”

The other kind of homage is “a work of art or entertainment which incorporates elements of style or content characteristic of another work, artist, or genre, as a means of paying affectionate tribute.” It can also refer to an example of such a tribute within a work. I noticed one in an episode of the television police drama Castle. The episode was presented as a frame story. The “frame” was the present day investigation. The story within the frame followed the usual Castle characters in a plot set in the 1930s. The homage [oh-mazh] reenacted a scene from the James Cagney movie Public Enemy (1931).

See if you can tell which kind of homage is meant in the following examples from the Oxford English Dictionary:

He must do homage to Philip for his lands in Normandy and Anjou, accept Philip as his overlord.

Before leaving the mountains Picasso embarked on a major homage to El Greco.

There is no country in which so absolute a homage is paid to wealth.

That vice pays homage to virtue is notorious; we call this hypocrisy.

Her first volume, however, was not the battle cry of a new poetry; it was a homage to Keats.

This character is named after Humphrey Bogart’s Fred Dobbs in the 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but it’s an homage that doesn’t appear to make much sense.

Proust pens homages to such modern inventions as the railroad, the telephone, the airplane.

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8 Responses to “Two Kinds of Homage”

  • Cathy Fridson

    There are 2 different words: homage (English), accent on the first syllable; hommage (French), accent on the the second syllable.

  • Melissa

    When using the French word and pronouncing it oh-MAZH, people most often use the French spelling: hommage. That way, it’s clear that it’s a borrowed foreign word, not just a high-falutin’ pronunciation of a word long pronounced otherwise in English. I’m surprised that this article does not even mention that spelling–but of course it would disqualify “homage” as a heteronym! Nevertheless, in the interest of accuracy, the author should have chosen either a different example of a heteronym or a different peg upon which to hang her discussion of homage/hommage.

  • Maeve Maddox

    Melissa,
    The motives you attribute to me never crossed my mind. I write from source material. My sources for this article do not include any examples of the word written with a French spelling in an English text. Perhaps you could direct me to your sources.

  • Curtis

    This article would have been more helpful if the parts of speech of the two forms were given, along with hints such as the use of “a” or “an” before the word.

    The sample sentences should have been labeled as one or the other form instead of telling the reader to guess which was which.

  • Melissa

    Oh dear, Maeve–I didn’t mean to impute to you any motives in what was a quite interesting posting! Perhaps the distinction I described is disappearing, because I couldn’t come up with any recent examples online when I googled my preferred spelling. If so, it’s too bad, I think, because it seems a useful one. The OED does not mention hommage anymore, so I suppose I’ll have to concede defeat.

    Replying to Curtis in your defense, I’d say that one uses “a” before the word when one pronounces the “h,” and “an” when one doesn’t. Some people consider the “h” as silent even when using the English pronunciation, and they would obviously use “an” all the time. (I think those people are misguided, but obviously I’m opinionated about a lot of things!)

    With best wishes–and please keep posting!

    Melissa

  • AnWulf

    There are quotes here:

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hommage

    Overall, it seems that homage (the English take of the word) can be noted in either sense and said with or without the ‘h’ in either sense.

    However, hommage, is held to only meaning.

  • venqax

    This is a perfect opportunity for me to campaign futiley for my anglicization platform. First, foreign words should be adopted only when they really add something of value, NOT when there is a perfectly good English word for the concept already. E.g., there is absolutely no need to call eruca sativa arugala. The plant already has a perfectly good English name: Rocket.

    Second, you get to pick the foreign spelling or the foreign pronunciation. Not both. You cannot write something with non-English orthography and expect English-speaking people to pronounce it according to another language’s rules. English rules are hard enough. Other language have this common sense– that’s why in Latin America they play beisbol. But English, God knows why, seems incapable of adjusting. If you want to SAY it like Spanish, then spell it halapenyo. If you want to SPELL it like Spanish, then say j (as in jar)alapeeno. You don’t get both.

    So… say homij for both words and let the context demonstrate the meaning. OR spell homage when you’re paying it to someone, and spell omazh or ohmazh when you figure you just HAVE to speak with your little finger in the air and sound self-consciously ridiculous. Which, of course, it would be better if you didn’t.

  • Zach

    I always thought the difference between the two was if it was being used with a verb or by itself as a noun. For instance, paying HOMage to someone or something, but the thing itself is an homAGE (this second one being the French pronunciation). It’s done frequently in English: REcord and reCORD; SUSpect and susPECT; OBject and obJECT; etc.

    As for venqax’ statements: 1. arugula and rocket are different countries’ ways of saying the same plant and the words evolved etymologically, not by one single choice (I’m in the US, where arugula is the common name for it); 2. picking the foreign spelling actually tells someone how to say the word, so you actually pick both foreign pronunciation and spelling, or neither (pretty much anyone who says jalapeño in any way that’s not the Spanish pronunciation is looked at strangely, laughed at, or both); 3. imo, there really shouldn’t be a snobbish, hoity-toity, arrogant air associated with one pronunciation over the other, but that’s just my opinion (mainly because of my thoughts starting this comment)

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