In the midwest, many people (farmers/ranchers) pronounce the fastener driven into a post for holding wire as steeple. I grew up that way too. Here are a couple of websites noting the differing pronounciation: a topic thread and a blog.
Note: I do pronounce the little wires puncturing and bent to hold papers together as staple.
Both of them have their corresponding verb forms.
The OED has quotations starting in 1722.
According to http://www.morewords.com/ there only three words or root words (thirteen if you count all variations) of the form '*eaf': deaf, leaf, and sheaf. The prounonciation of "eaf" favors "eef" two-to-one.
I also looked at the 78 words of the form '*eat'. The 25 which seemed to be to be words or root words are: beat, bleat, caveat, cheat, cleat, compleat, eat, feat, great, heat, hereat, meat, neat, orgeat, peat, pleat, seat, sweat, meat, teat, thereat, threat, treat, wheat, and whereat. Three have two syllable endings, one has the long 'a' sound, and one is french derived and is pronounced differently in Britian and the US (orgeat – barley or a liquid derived from it). In the rest, the long 'eet' sound is favored sixteen-to-two over the short 'et' sound.
'Deaf', 'sweat', and 'threat' are the ones in these uses of 'ea' that do not follow the two-vowels-in-a-row-makes-the-first-one-long-rather-than-short. (And, yes, I know many other words that do not follow that rule.)
It was explained to me half a century ago that if you ha a stapler or a staple gun, it was pronounced staple, but if you were mashing your fingers with fencing pliers or a hammer, it was pronounced steeple.Â Â A joke followed, saying that's because you would need a steeple in your future because of the vocabulary you'd be exercising. I think he made up that joke himself; I never heard it again.Â (But he was right about mashed thumbs and fingers.)
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