Monday, October 24, 2005

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Amphibology

Merriam-Webster Online

amphibology \am-fuh-BAH-luh-jee\ noun

: a sentence or phrase that can be interpreted in more than one way

Example sentence:
Not wanting to voice what I really felt, I resorted to amphibology and said, "I can't say too many good things about her."

Did you know?
A venerable old word in English, "amphibology" is from Greek "amphibolos" (via Late Latin and Latin). "Amphibolos," from "amphi-" ("both") and "ballein" ("to throw"), literally means "encompassing" or "hitting at both ends"; figuratively it means "ambiguous." Amphibology is an equivocator's friend. An editor who has been sent an unsolicited manuscript to critique, for example, might reply, "I shall lose no time in reading your book." Or a dinner guest who feels the onset of heartburn might say something like, "Ah, that was a meal I shall not soon forget!" But amphibology's ambiguity can be unintended and undesirable as well, as in "When Mom talked to Judy, she said she might call her back the next day." (Who said who might call whom back?)

1 comment:

weltatem said...

This reminds me of the Safire column On Language that I was reading yesterday in the NYTimes. He was wittily exploring the etymology of the word conundrum: "Lexicographers throw up their harmlessly drudging hands and say, "Origin obscure." Like Greenspan's honest head-scratching about the direction of long-term interest rates, the etymology of conundrum can best be described by itself."

All these "maybe this, maybe that" words - more word for geek "fun and games."