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What is a word whose definition is "words that have multiple meanings"?

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Polysemy /pə'lɪsəmi/ means the property of having many (Gk poly-) meanings (Gk -semy). So "words that have many meanings" would be polysemous words /pə'lɪsəməs wərdz/. – John Lawler Feb 24 '13 at 17:56
If you want a word that everyone would recognize, there really isn’t one. If you want a specialist term known only by those well-studied in the field, then that is a different matter. – tchrist Feb 24 '13 at 22:21

If you are looking for a single word, the answer is polysemant.

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The term homonym is most commonly used to refer to words which have the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings.

"Polysemous words" might be, shall we say, "not incorrect", but you can pretty much guarantee you'll force everyone you're speaking or writing to to pull out a dictionary (or is that the point?).

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I can't say I knew this before just now, but according to wikipedia, "polysemy" actually refers to words with distinct but related meanings. Assuming that's valid, the word would seem to offer too much precision to really apply as an answer here (you asked about multiple meanings, which I interpret as not necessarily implying related meanings). "Homonym" is better, with the slight caveat that sometimes people incorrectly refer to homophones or homographs as "homonyms". – marshaul Feb 24 '13 at 18:20
We're getting into deep waters here. Do we need to distinguish bear (v)/bear (n)/bare (a) vs shirt/skirt vs familiar/familial vs to/too/two vs lie/lie/lei/lay/laid/lade/lain/lane, for instance? These are all different kinds of "words that have multiple meanings", depending on how one understands words, multiple, and meanings. – John Lawler Feb 24 '13 at 19:02
I think that any need – or lack thereof – to swim into such "deep waters" depends wholly on the intent behind the original question. Given that the asker is a new user, and many new users here are either learning English, or otherwise asking elementary questions, it seems silly to engage in such dialectic in this particular context, although I gather it's quite interesting to you. We have a simple question asked: what's a word for words with multiple meanings? The simple answer is "homonym". Now, if the question were asked in a way that prompted such involved analysis, I might engage. – marshaul Feb 24 '13 at 19:21
It depends from which direction you are approaching it. Homophones/-graphs/-nyms are any words with the same form/sound which have changed over time to (accidentally) look or sound the same. Polysemy is when one word has evolved to have several distinct meaning, without changing its form. So essentially polysemy and homonymy describe the same end result. But I would still distinguish between a homonym as 'multiple words that share the same form but have different meanings' and polysemy as what you get with 'one word that has developed multiple meanings without changing its form'. – Oliver Mason Feb 24 '13 at 20:54

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