Weal - wheel

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Weal and wheel form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these. They betray a distinct Southern English pronunciation in realizing the initial consonant identically: speakers of some other accents distinguish them so that they are no longer homophones

  • Weal (usually a noun) has two distinct meanings.
    • The non-count noun weal shares an etymological root with the adverb well and the noun wealth. It once meant 'riches', 'prosperity' (like 'wealth'); it then became more 'welfare', 'happiness' or 'well-being'.
      • The old-fashioned, rather clichέd, phrase "For weal or woe" is an equivalent of "for better, for worse", "for good or bad".
      • The common weal is a phrase used for "the common good". In the past, it was an occasional way to write what is now commonwealth.
    • The countable noun '[a] weal' means 'a raised stripe', originally 'the puffy stripe raised on the flesh by a whip or cane, etc', the result of corporal punishment. (This was sometimes written wheal during the nineteenth century. It is cognate with wale.)
  • A wheel properly (and etymologically) realized by the phoneme /ʍ/
    • as a noun is the common circular construction rotating on an axle on which vehicles, which commonly have four wheels, travel. Other forms of wheel are Big Wheels, such as the London Eye; water-wheels, which power watermills by the energy they draw from the flow of a river, etc; and may contrivances in many forms of machine to reduce friction, transmit power etc, such as fly-wheels, gear wheels and balance wheels;
    • as a verb, 'to wheel' may mean
      • 'to turn, as on a wheel - 'the stars wheeled on through the night'
      • 'to travel in a wheeled vehicle' - it was a common way for cyclists to describe their movements (several cycling clubs are still known as wheelers), and to free-wheel is 'to travel (usually down-hill) without pedalling'
      • marching and drilling troops wheel when they turn as if each line of them were the spoke of a wheel, so that the body of troops change direction while maintaining the same formation (as opposed to 'turning', which in the military sense involves the individuals moving so a to change the formation.
      • Phrases involving teh verb 'to wheel' often carry connotations of a frictionless ease of movement: 'to wheel [something or someone, or even such abstract ideas as an argument, or an old joke] in' is 'to introduce it with ease'; 'to wheel around' is used of people who change their minds, or reverse their opinions, with facility