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Old 12-11-2011, 04:40 PM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Posts: 2,236
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
For the OP, one that almost qualifies is "bit". I don't think that "past tense of bite" and "a small piece" are related to each other,
I think they almost certainly are, as you can see from the German cognates "er biss" (he bit) and "ein Bisschen" (a bit). If I am correct, a "bit" is originally a piece bitten off.

One example of three-way unrelated meanings is:
(1) A writing instrument
(2) An area in which animals are held
(3) (slang) A place where convicted criminals are held (short for "penitentiary")

There are other meanings too but they are related to (1) and (2).

How about:
(1) to climb
(2) a device for weighing or measuring
(3) a plate on the skin of a fish or snake

A thought occurs to me. Is it possible that English spelling was standardised in such a way as to distinguish unrelated homophones by different spelling? For example, "hare" and "hair" are standardised on different spellings. If so, this would explain the surprising lack of examples that satisfy the OP.