Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How could one put, in a single word, language that has multiple meanings at once?

share|improve this question
2  
Related: Alternative to “double entendre”? –  Cerberus Jun 9 '11 at 1:29
add comment

7 Answers

There's also polysemous or polysemantic, both of which mean "having many meanings."

share|improve this answer
    
+1. This seems to be the clearest term for what the questioner requests — it doesn’t have the extraneous connotations that some others have (humour in the case of pun, deliberate deceit or evasiveness in the case of equivocation), and it also covers all examples, unlike homonym, homophone, etc., which are each rather more restrictive. –  PLL Jun 9 '11 at 3:40
    
Actually, we may need something like bi-/disemous or ambisimous. –  Kris Oct 14 '12 at 14:43
add comment

A pun:

The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting multiple meanings of words, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.

Wikipedia

Perhaps more specifically a homonymic pun, which relies on words that are both homographs (same spelling, different meaning) and homophones (sound alike), e.g., "Being in politics is just like playing golf:

. . . you are trapped in one bad lie after another."

share|improve this answer
2  
+1 Paronomasia is exactly the pun-itive measure I had in mind. –  Robusto Jun 9 '11 at 2:14
1  
Pun seems to imply humorous plays on words. Is there a word extending to all? –  Thursagen Jun 9 '11 at 3:09
    
Here's another link to rhetoric.byu.edu/Figures/P/paronomasia.htm –  Unreason Jun 9 '11 at 15:02
add comment

Equivocation could work.

Equivocation is classified as both a formal and informal logical fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). It generally occurs with polysemic words.

Wikipedia

share|improve this answer
add comment

Are you looking for :

Equivocation

There is also:

Double Entendre

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for double entendre, since OP mentions speech –  Unreason Jun 9 '11 at 15:03
add comment

ambiguity (or ambiguous) and its associated figure of speech amphiboly capture the "multiple meanings at once". Both can apply to a single word or to an entire phrase or sentence.

share|improve this answer
    
I think this is the best, because it is not confined to words. A sentence might be ambiguous despite none of its words being so. For example, The boy saw the man with the telescope can mean either that the man had the telescope, and the boy saw him; alternatively, it can mean that the boy, by means of the telescope, saw the man. Both meanings arise from the same set of words, without changing the meanings of the words. It is how the words combine which determines which meaning ultimately arises. –  jyc23 Jun 10 '11 at 1:05
add comment

Bisemous.

It really means "with two meanings".

share|improve this answer
add comment

you do it ostensibly

"So maybe there’s a legal convention concerning how definitions such as this are to be circumscribed/overridden/whatever by the common English meaning however vague by comparison of the term ostensibly being defined?" — The Volokh Conspiracy » Hate Crimes and Double Jeopardy:

I just realized that if your word has at least two meanings at the same time that you might be referring to something ironic

–adjective
Both coincidental and contradictory in a humorous or
poignant and extremely improbable way.

It is ironic that Einstein, who was such a revolutionary young man, was reduced to irrational denial of quantum mechanics in his later years.

share|improve this answer
2  
Is this a joke? If not, “ostensibly” here means as much as “allegedly”. As in, “it’s claimed that this term … is being defined (but it really isn’t)”. –  Konrad Rudolph Jun 9 '11 at 10:45
    
@Konrad the question was "How could one put, in a single word, language that has multiple meanings at once?" How would you do it? I'd do it ... ostensibly :) –  Paul Amerigo Pajo Jun 9 '11 at 11:58
1  
@pageman: 'ostensibly' does imply that there is an alternative meaning, but it is primarily about the situation rather than the word or language. –  Mitch Jun 9 '11 at 17:34
    
@Mitch the question was how "does one" do it, right? ;) –  Paul Amerigo Pajo Jun 10 '11 at 15:34
1  
@pageman: that is a subtle reading of the intention of the OP that the OP probably didn't intend. 'Ostensible' is about a surface meaning, but on reflection there is another meaning (It is not about the process of -inducing- the multiple meanings , the act of constructing the utterance with more than one meaning (which is what I think you're getting at). In that case it would be prevaricating, equivocating, or dissembling, with the added connotation of 'with the intent to deceive' (which 'ostensible' doesn't have). –  Mitch Jun 10 '11 at 16:25
show 1 more comment

protected by RegDwigнt Oct 14 '12 at 15:53

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.