Yoga Body, a book by Mark Singleton

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Tue Mar 8 06:58:56 UTC 2011

There is nothing wrong with either Mark Singleton's or Wendy Doniger's  
use of the word 'homonym', not that the question has any relevance to  
his book or her article (in the Times Literary Supplement this Sunday).

Take a look in the Oxford English Dictionary under the word 'homonym.'  
You'll find that the first/primary definition of 'homonym' given there  
is: "1a. The same name or word used to denote different things." This  
is obviously the sense of the word that Singleton and Doniger had in  

The second definition of 'homonym' in the Oxford English Dictionary is  
the limited technical sense of the word you have in mind:  "1b.  
Philol. Applied to words having the same sound, but differing in  
meaning." It is rather obvious that that isn't what they had in mind.

Clearly the word 'homonym' is itself a homonym (in the first sense).  
Maybe a linguist should know that? :^)

S. Farmer

On Mar 7, 2011, at 7:30 PM, George Thompson wrote:

> Dear List,
> On another list there is a discussion of an interesting book with  
> this title
> written recently  by Mark Singleton.  In this book Singleton argues,
> provocatively,  that modern hatha yoga practices are bearly a 100  
> years old,
> and that they have been heavily influenced by early 20th century  
> European
> gymnastic regimens.   As far as I am concerned there is nothing
> controversial about Singleton's interesting new claims.
> But early on in his book, Singleton tries to suggest that the term  
> yoga in
> classical Sanskrit is not just one term.  He claims that it is a  
> series of
> homonyms  \that mean different things in the Upanisads, the Gita,  
> the Yoga
> Sutras, the Shaiva Tantras, etc.
> But, in my view this is a very embarrassing error for any Sankrit  
> scholar to
> make.  In English "to," and "two," and "too," are homonyms.  Also,  
> "threw"
> and "through" are homonyms.  Aso, in some dialects of English,  
> "marry,"
> "merry," and "Mary," are all also homonyms.
> But in Sanskrit, there is is only one word, "yoga," which has only  
> one form
> but any meanings.  There are no homonyms of "yoga" in Sanskrit.   
> There is
> just that single  word.  Singleton obviously has no idea what he is  
> talking
> about here when it comes to the notion of homony,m.  That's bad  
> enough.  But
> he is young, and maybe he can be excused for this slight error.  But  
> in her
> review of his otherwise good book Doniger repeats the same  
> linguistic error:
> the Sanskit terrn "yoga" consists, in her view, of several so-called
> homonyms.
> This of course is very bad linguistics.
> I don't know what to think.  Should we just be silent about such small
> errors?  Or should we call them out?
> George Thompson

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