Today we have some interesting words, of course, all words are interesting; they have histories, growth and migrations; they move around quite a bit sometimes. Words are part of the baggage that people carry with them wherever they go. Two of these words are fairly regional, commonly used in areas with active seaports. Two of these words might be mispronounced, more on that later. These words are borrowed from the Romance languages like so many others.
Quay can be traced to French several centuries ago it was spelled “quai” and is related to Old Spanish “cayo”. Beyond that in the 14th century it was “keye”, and with a Celtic origin as “kai”. The definition of quay is a structure for loading and unloading ships running parallel to the shore. Serving as a breakwater is another function of a quay, slowing down the intensity of incoming waves. This is unlike a pier or wharf, which are built perpendicular from the shore and stick out into the water.
Cay is from the early 1700’s and is from Spanish. Like the previous word, it has origins in “cayo”. Some think it is related to quay also. Cay is a small sandy island on top of coral. Many of them are nearly submerged by high tides, some completely. This word is used very frequently in the Caribbean. These little islands are frequented by sea birds and crabs of different kinds.
Key is actually closely related to the two previous words in one of its definitions. When you search for key on Google, the second version is similar in definition to both quay and cay. Most of us know it primarily as a small metallic object with notches used to lock and unlock doors or padlocks. Of course there are the devices that I am using to type this blog: the keys of my laptop keyboard. There are standardized tests that have an answer key to facilitate correcting the tests. There are uses in music and other disciplines as well.
Now it is later, let us talk about pronunciations. The definition of a homonym is two or more words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Some people might think these three words are not homonyms, maybe two of them, but not all three. If you use Google again, you will find that all three can be pronounced the same and pronounced differently. They can all be pronounced as “kee”, my choice today. I have chosen to treat them as homonyms for the purposes of this blog. Feel free to disagree with me at length in a cordial fashion.
We have three words that have similar roots and meanings. All are recognized by your spellchecker, so you must be sure to use the correct word for your context.
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