Recognizing Synonyms

I saw a synonym that I recognized the other day and started wondering how I recognized it?

The word I had in mind was “student” and the synonym was “pupil.”

Attempts to recognize synonyms:

  • spelling: student, pupil – No.
  • length: student 7 letters, pupil 5 letters – No.
  • origin: student – late 14c., from O.Fr. estudient , pupil – from O.Fr. pupille (14c.) – No. [1]
  • numerology: student (a = 1, b = 2 …) student = 19 + 20 + 21 + 4 + 5 + 14 + 20 = 69 ; pupil = 16 + 21 + 16 + 9 + 12 = 74 – No [2].

But I know “student” and “pupil” to be synonyms.[3]

I could just declare them to be synonyms.

But then how do I answer questions like:

  • Why did I think “student” and “pupil” were synonyms?
  • What would make some other term a synonym of either “student” or “pupil?”
  • How can an automated system match my finding of more synonyms?

Provisional thoughts on answers to follow this week.


Without reviewing my answers in this series, pick a pair of synonyms and answer those three questions for that pair. (There are different answers than mine.)


[1] Synonym origins from: Online Etymology Dictionary

[2] There may be some Bible code type operation that can discover synonyms but I am unaware of it.

[3] They are synonyms now, that wasn’t always the case.

One Response to “Recognizing Synonyms”

  1. Kirk Lowery says:

    Well, as a linguist I would say that you recognize them as synonyms because they both refer to the same (generalized, abstract) object. If an object has a set of characteristics (an ontology, perhaps?), and then if “student” and “pupil” ontologies have a certain threshold overlap, they’re synonyms.

    That what you’re looking for?