Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Earn and Urn

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The words ‘earn’ and ‘urn’ are homophones. While they sound the same, they do not have much else in common. They come from different languages, they are different forms of speech, and their meanings are not similar at all.

‘Earn’ is a verb. It is one of the older words in English, coming from the earliest forms of the language. In Old English, it was the verb ‘earnian’, which means the same as the modern form. That in turn came from ‘aznona’ in Proto-Germanic, which came from the word ‘azno’, meaning ‘labor’ or ‘hard work’.

It means to gain something, usually through hard work. Sometimes, it refers to winning a prize or a form of recognition.

“He earned a gold medal in the competition last night.” 

“That band just earned a spot on the top ten music artists of this year.”

More commonly, it means to get paid for work.

“I’m earning a few hundred a month with my lemonade stand.” 

“Now that he’s earning, he’s going to save up for a house.” 

There are also a few more obscure definitions. The word ‘rinnan’, which was Anglo-Saxon for ‘to run’, spawned another type of ‘earn’. That one is slang for curdling, though it is strictly British and it is dated at this point, but still occasionally used. An older form of the word, from the same etymology, means ‘to yearn’ or ‘to grieve’, though these are never found in modern times. Finally, it can be an alternative spelling of the word ‘erne’, which means an eagle. That meaning, however, is mainly found in poetry or in dialect.

The word ‘urn’ comes from the Latin ‘urna’, which means pretty much the same thing as ‘urn’. Interestingly enough, ‘urna’ comes from the Latin word ‘uro’, which means ‘I burn, consume’, which is only tangentially related to the modern meaning. Given the etymology of the word, it does suggest that the word ‘urna’ was originally used for vessels that held cremated ashes – which were common in many different cultures – and expanded to other meanings from there.

An urn, in the broadest sense, is a vessel such as a vase which has a footed base and a narrow neck. This means that, unlike a regular vase where the bottom of the vase is directly against the ground, the urn has a second part which exists solely to raise it up. Many types of vases, however, do have narrowed necks. These urns are used in many different ways. Gardening is one popular area, as the urns look fancy and will hold plants well. Another type of container called an urn is a tea or coffee urn. These are metal containers used to brew the beverages.

One of the more common meanings is, as stated above, a vessel that holds cremated remains, also known as ‘cremains’ or ashes. While some of them are shaped like urns, there are plenty of other possible shapes. Modern biodegradable urns, for instance, might be shaped more like a pod or a cup. It is also becoming popular to use ashes to make other types of objects, such as keepsakes or jewelry. These items could technically be called urns, as they contain cremated remains.

It is also possible to use ‘urn’ to refer to any place of burial, similar to how ‘the grave’ is used to represent death.

To summarize, to earn something is to get it as a reward for hard work, such as a paycheck, an award, or recognition. There are also other meanings which have fallen out of use An urn is a type of vase, which is also associated with a vessel that holds remains and a large brewer for tea and coffee.


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