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


7 Answers 7


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

  • +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, 2011 at 3:40
  • Actually, we may need something like bi-/disemous or ambisimous.
    – Kris
    Oct 14, 2012 at 14:43

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.


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."


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.



Are you looking for :


There is also:

Double Entendre


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.

  • 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, 2011 at 1:05


It really means "with two meanings".


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

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.

  • 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)”. Jun 9, 2011 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 :) Jun 9, 2011 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, 2011 at 17:34
  • @Mitch the question was how "does one" do it, right? ;) Jun 10, 2011 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, 2011 at 16:25

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