Amphibology (from the Greek ἀμφιβολία, amphibolia) is a phrase or sentence that is grammatically ambiguous, such as she sees more of her children than her husband.
A sentence or phrase (as “nothing is good enough for you”) that can be interpreted in more than one way.
Amphibology is syntactic ambiguity.
Syntactic ambiguity arises not from the range of meanings of single words, but from the relationship between the words and clauses of a sentence, and the sentence structure implied thereby. Thus, puns, being plays on single words, don’t really belong to the category amphibol0gy, but I will make free use of them below.
When a reader can reasonably interpret the same sentence as having more than one possible structure, the text meets the definition of amphibology.
In legal disputes, courts may be asked to interpret the meaning of syntactic ambiguities in statutes or contracts. In some instances, arguments asserting highly unlikely interpretations have been deemed frivolous.
A globally ambiguous sentence is one that has at least two distinct interpretations. After one has read the entire sentence, the ambiguity is still present.
Rereading the sentence does not resolve the ambiguity. Global ambiguities are often unnoticed because the reader tends to choose the meaning he or she understands to be more probable.
“The woman played with the baby in the gray shirt.” In this example, the baby could be wearing the gray shirt or the woman could be wearing the gray shirt.
The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose. — Henry VI (1.4.30), Shakespeare
This sentence could be taken to mean that Henry will depose the duke, or that the duke will depose Henry.
Eduardum occidere nolite timere bonum est. — Edward II, Marlowe.
Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, famously plotted to murder Edward II in such a way as not to draw blame on themselves, sending a famous order in Latin which, depending on where the comma was inserted, could mean either “Do not be afraid to kill Edward; it is good” or “Do not kill Edward; it is good to fear.”
I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola. — Lola, Ray Davies
SURVIVOR OF SIAMESE TWINS JOINS PARENTS
John saw the man on the mountain with a telescope.
Eat every carrot and pea on your plate. (Actually this is amphibology and punning, which is a slightly different matter.)
Flying saucers can be dangerous.
Whiskey running is risky.
IRAQI HEAD SEEKS ARMS
Moses tied his ass to a tree and walked forty miles.
Fifty Yards to the Outhouse by Willy Makeit and Betty Wont.
Tiger’s Revenge by Claude Balls
Hole In The Mattress by Mr. Completely
The Yellow River by I.P. Freely
Are these amphibologies? No. They are jokes I remember from the third grade.
Amphibologies are often difficult, if not impossible, to translate. Here is one that works in Spanish and English. I bought a book called ‘Learn to speak English in 15 steps.’ I have walked 3 blocks and nothing! Swindlers!
That one works in both languages. Estafador!
If one combines the words ‘to write-while-not-writing’: for then it means, that he has the power to write and not to write at once; whereas if one does not combine them, it means that when he is not writing he has the power to write. — Aristotle, Sophistical refutations, Book I, Part 4
REAGAN WINS ON BUDGET, BUT MORE LIES AHEAD
Farmer Bill Dies in House
Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms
Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
Infant Pulled from Wrecked Car Involved in Short Police Pursuit
French push bottles up German rear
Or, this one: Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans
British left waffles on Falklands
Stolen painting found by tree
Little Hope Given Brain-Damaged Man
Somali Tied to Militants Held on U.S. Ship for Months
I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know. Julius Marx
The peasants are revolting.
A nurse complains: He had two bowel movements on me last night.
Don’t Get Mad. Get Glad.
The woman with the dog that had the parasol was brown.
The stress accent is on the third syllable am phi BO lo gy. [ˌæmfɪˈbɒlədʒɪ]
Save rags and waste paper
SHOT OFF WOMAN’S LEG HELPS NICKLAUS TO 66
They are flying planes.
Hospitals are sued by 7 foot doctors.
Teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to drive. It’s getting too dangerous on the streets.
Giving it to the public in the same location for over forty years.
2 Sisters Reunited After 18 Years At Checkout Counter
Used cars for sale: Why go elsewhere to be cheated? Come here first!
Down through the flaming annals of history.
Eat our curry, you won’t get better!
Throw mama from the train a kiss.
From the psychiatrist’s record at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital : Patient was found lying naked in bed with a sitter.
“For goddes speken in amphibologies, And for o soth, they tellen twenty lyes.” (Chaucer Troylus iv. 1406)
Such ambiguous termes they call Amphibologia, we call it the ambiguous, or figure of sence incertaine. (Puttenham Eng. Poesie)
Late Middle English: from Old French amphibologie, from late Latin amphibologia, from Latin amphibolia, from Greek amphibolos ’ambiguous.’
Amphi’bolic or amphiboly
Reading a book while growing mushrooms would be two ways of promoting life. So, what would be the word for this, Amphibia? Amphipharmikon?
Lawmen From Mexico Barbecue Guests
In Athens men learn’d […] to resolve a sophisticall argument, and to confound the imposture and amphibologie of words, captiously enterlaced together […]. 1603, John Florio, translating Michel de Montaigne, Essays, Folio Society 2006, vol. 1 p. 133
Dog for sale. Will eat anything. Especially fond of children.
Amphibology: 14th Century: from Late Latin amphibologia, ultimately from Greek amphibolos ambiguous
At our drugstore, we dispense with accuracy!
Professor to student, on receiving a fifty-page term paper: “I shall waste no time reading it.” (Often attributed to Disraeli.)
Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
No food is better than our food.
Dealers Will Hear Car Talk At Noon
Does anyone else think that this guy looks like a Zombie? He looks patched together from human parts. They left out the heart.
Child’s Stool Great for Use in Garden.
Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.
We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. Thomas Jefferson
Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3
Some synomyms: prevarication, ambiguity, casuistry, dissimulation, duplicity, misrepresentation, sophistry, speciousness, tergiversation, song and dance.
The anthropologists went to a remote area and took photographs of some native women, but they weren’t developed.
Man drills eighteen holes in his head and lives. (About a man who died after drilling nineteen holes in his head)
Chick accuses male colleagues of sexism.
Rangers get whiff of Colon
Ford, Reagan neck in presidential primary
Student excited Dad got head job.
Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Ax
Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.
Lady Jacks off to hot start in conference
Homicide victims rarely talk to police
A-Rod goes deep, Wang hurt
Porn star sues over rear-end collision
Crack found in man’s buttocks
Girls’ schools still offering ‘something special’… head
12 On Their Way To Cruise Among Dead In Plane Crash
Study Shows Frequent Sex Enhances Pregnancy Chances
Utah Poison Control Center reminds everyone not to take poison.
Condom truck tips, spills load
Deer with big rack female it turns out
City unsure why the sewer smells
17 remain dead in morgue Shooting Spree
Puerto Rican teen named mistress of the Universe
Local child wins gun from fundraiser
Tiger Woods plays with own balls, Nike says
Keegan fills Schmeichel’s gap with Seaman
Woman in sumo wrestler suit assaulted her ex-girlfriend in gay pub after she waved at man dressed as Snickers bar.
China Ferrari sex orgy death crash
German throws puppy at Hells Angels bikers then flees on bulldozer
Jellyfish apocalypse not coming
Man Accused of Killing Lawyer Receives a New Attorney
Mayor Parris to homeless: Go home
Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement
Most earthquake damage is caused by shaking
Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons
Alton attorney accidentally sues himself
Man eats underwear to beat Breathalyzer
State prisons to replace Easy-Open locks
Best Man left bleeding after being hit in head by flying dildo
Pigs die as houses are blown down
Being Bullied? Just act less gay, advise teachers
SHE THOUGHT CYCLIST WAS A TREE BRANCH
Shakira Attacked By Sea Lion: Blackberry Mistaken For Fish
I bottle-fed my children, but I breastfeed my pug dog
Clothed man drowns at lifeguard party celebrating drowning-free summer
Brazilian man dies after cow falls through his roof on top of him
Mississippi executes deformed mentally ill man after a last meal of steak, shrimp, Texas Toast, iced tea and a pack of Twizzlers.
Gay man who tried to poison lesbian neighbors with slug pellets over three-legged cat feud walks free
Penguins Not Protests on Turkish TV Fuel Anger
Giraffe Mulling Suicide as ‘Terrorists’ Chant in Cairo
DSM’s Flirt With Red Hot Mamas Cuts Investor Love for Plastics
Brokers Go Gray as Youth Proves Unsustainable With No Cold Calls
Cold War With Soup Tempts East Europeans to Menus of HBO, Sony
DoCoMo Cash, Girl Band Help Beat Softbank on Costs: Japan Credit
Kill Your Wife While Sleepwalking or Get Goldman Touch
Forex During Birth Shows Asian Women Top Men Private Bankers
Shark Oil for HIV Shot Takes Cue From Hemingway’s Old Man
The turkey is ready to eat.
Visiting relatives can be boring.
A lady with a clipboard stopped me in the street the other day. She said, ‘Can you spare a few minutes for cancer research?’ I said, ‘All right, but we’re not going to get much done.’
Planes can go around the world, iPhones can do a zillion things, but humans have not invented a machine that can debone a cow or a chicken as efficiently as a human being.
They are cooking apples.
The old men and women sat on the bench.
John told the woman that Bill was dating a projectile point.
They fed her rat poison.
Kids make nutritious snacks.
Grandmother of eight makes hole in one.
Drunk gets nine months in violin case.
Milk drinkers are turning to powder.
I know the words to that song about the queen don’t rhyme.
Eye drops off shelf.
Prostitutes appeal to pope.
Queen Mary having bottom scraped.
Miners refuse to work after death.
Panda mating fails. Veterinarian takes over.
Complaints about NBA referees growing ugly.
MAN EATING PIRANHA MISTAKENLY SOLD AS PET FISH
ASTRONAUT TAKES BLAME FOR GAS IN SPACECRAFT
Do it in a microwave oven. Save time.
Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
Diaper market bottoms out.
Is there a ring of débris around Uranus?
LACK OF BRAINS HINDERS RESEARCH
Tiger Goes Limp! Pulls Out After Nine Holes
Library Vote Upholds Decision To OK Guns But Bans Wooden Shoes
Poll: Santorum Comes From Behind In Alabama Three-Way
Homeless Man Under House Arrest
Jolie Is Pregnant By Pitt
Students Cook & Serve Grandparents
How To Buy A $450,000 Home for Only $750,000
Man Arrested After Cops Spot Suspiciously Small Package In His Undies
Midget Sues Grocer, Cites Belittling Remarks
Acceptance of Gay Marriage Must Be Won From Bottom Up
Man On Way To Perform Circumcision Charged With Driving Drunk
See you next week?
Linda LaFlamme Sam Andrew