Am I just crazy, or is there some ambiguity in the phrase "feeling well"?

Example: Billy has a genetic defect that causes him to lose sensation in his fingertips every few days, or so. "How are you feeling today?" is a question that Billy might answer in such a way as to indicate the quality or degree to which he can feel.

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    Wouldn't it be how is your feeling today? As in, how is your sense of touch. I would think the answer to: How are you feeling today? (in re. physical touch) would be something more to the effect of 'with my toes'... I would think, though, that the ambiguity would exist if one were to ask Are you feeling well today? May 22, 2013 at 16:06
  • as @batpigandme stated, someone wanting to know the status of Billy's ability to sense touch in his fingertips would ask "How is your feeling today?" and they would probably expound on that a bit by adding, "Do you notice any improvement?", etc. The "funny" answer to the almost-non-ambiguous question, "How are you feeling?", would be "With my hands, of course!" :-) May 22, 2013 at 17:59

1 Answer 1


In principle it could mean that, but without a context to suggest that the person's sense of touch is at issue, it clearly refers to one's general sense of well-being.

There are a lot of expressions that could have alternate meanings but have clear defaults. Some of these are the basis for jokes. "How does she look?" "With her eyes, of course!"

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    If your nose runs and your feet smell, you're built upside down. There are a lot of expressions that could have alternate meanings but have clear defaults. I'm going to purloin that one. May 22, 2013 at 16:20
  • I had this dog. No nose... How did he smell, you ask? Terribly!
    – mplungjan
    May 22, 2013 at 16:37
  • The two expressions would be pronounced differently. This is normal for ambiguous written sentences; they don't represent the intonation and stress patterns that we'd use in speech to indicate one meaning rather than the others. It's only in writing that these kinds of ambiguities occur, and that's because some people don't pay attention to sound when they write. May 22, 2013 at 17:52
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    When I used to teach a writing class, I would always make sure people's papers were read aloud in class by someone who'd never read them before. They tripped over these and other ambiguities in trying to pronounce them aloud, with lots of false starts. This makes the situation crystal clear. Like Garden Path Sentences. May 22, 2013 at 17:55
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    @JohnLawler I've never been more grateful for the existence of the semicolon May 22, 2013 at 18:08

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