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What is the term used for a phrase that could have more than one meaning such as "This battery is free of charge"?

3 Answers 3

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Ambiguity:

  • the characteristic of having more than one possible interpretation or meaning (AHD)

Amphibology:

  • a sentence or phrase (as “nothing is good enough for you”) that can be interpreted in more than one way. (M-W)

  • the use of ambiguous phrases or such as can be construed in two senses. A good example is Shakespeare's 'The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose' (Henry VI).( Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary)

Etymology:

  • Gr. amfibolos ambiguous + logos speech.
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    Hmmm. Amphibology is one I'd never heard before. (Now to see if I can remember it next time I need it.)
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 9, 2015 at 21:02
  • @HotLicks Sounds like surgery to me. 'No, you're not amputating my bology - not on your life'.
    – WS2
    Apr 9, 2015 at 21:27
  • @WS2 - Sounds like a frog to me.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 9, 2015 at 21:30
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  • Double entendre: a word, phrase, etc, that can be interpreted in two ways, esp one having one meaning that is indelicate
  • Pun: a play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
  • Play of words: a pun or the act of punning
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    I know the 3rd example as "play on words" (I'm from US Midwest). Apr 9, 2015 at 20:41
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    play on words also suggests that the ambiguity is used in a humorous way.
    – Barmar
    Apr 9, 2015 at 20:50
  • @KristinaLopez I'm from eastern England and I too know the third example as a play on words - I think most people do.
    – WS2
    Apr 9, 2015 at 21:20
  • None of your examples are, in my view, particularly apt to the example sentence given. The first is normally used to describe an indecorous joke, the second and third a smart-Alec witticism. The case in question is a straightforward accidental ambiguity.
    – WS2
    Apr 9, 2015 at 21:23
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Ambiguous means that a phrase can have more than one meaning

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ambiguous

Does this help.

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