The presence of two or more possible meanings in a single passage. Also, a fallacy in which the same term is used in more than one way. Adjective: ambiguous.
- Lexical Ambiguity
- Syntactic Ambiguity
- Crash Blossom
- Double Entendre
- Garden-Path Sentence
Etymology:From the Latin, "wandering about"
Examples and Observations:
- "As I was leaving this morning, I said to myself, 'The last thing you must do is forget your speech.' And, sure enough, as I left the house this morning, the last thing I did was to forget my speech."
- I can't tell you how much I enjoyed meeting your husband.
- We saw her duck.
- Roy Rogers: More hay, Trigger?
Trigger: No thanks, Roy, I'm stuffed!
- Pentagon Plans Swell Deficit
- I can't recommend this book too highly.
- "Leahy Wants FBI to Help Corrupt Iraqi Police Force"
(headline at CNN.com, December 2006)
- Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
- Union Demands Increased Unemployment
- "Thanks for dinner. I’ve never seen potatoes cooked like that before."
(Jonah Baldwin in the film Sleepless in Seattle, 1993)
"Because can be ambiguous. 'I didn't go to the party because Mary was there' may mean that Mary's presence dissuaded me from going or that I went to sample the canapes."
(David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style. Guardian Books, 2010)
- Pun and Irony
"Quintilian uses amphibolia (III.vi.46) to mean 'ambiguity,' and tells us (Vii.ix.1) that its species are innumerable; among them, presumably, are Pun and Irony."
(Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Univ. of California Press, 1991)
"An ambiguity, in ordinary speech, means something very pronounced, and as a rule witty or deceitful. I propose to use the word in an extended sense: any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language. . . .
"We call it ambiguous, I think, when we recognize that there could be a puzzle as to what the author meant, in that alternative views might be taken without sheer misreading. If a pun is quite obvious it would not be called ambiguous, because there is no room for puzzling. But if an irony is calculated to deceive a section of its readers, I think it would ordinarily be called ambiguous."
(William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, 1947)