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I just read a paper which heavily used polysemous, which means (think like ancient Greeks: poly + meaning -> πολύ + σημασία -> πολύσημος -> polysemus, which I think is polysemous in plural, but polysemus is red-underlined, as not a word from my Mac.

However the paper use polysemous in place of "two meanings". That, in Greek, would result in δύο + σημασία -> disemous or maybe bisemous (you know, like bipolar means δι + πολικός -> δύο πόλους.

However both disemous and bisemous are ref-highlighted as wrong. After searching the Internet, I found Is the word bisemous acceptable? in Chinese-forums and bisemous in wordow, which are a bit controversial, so I am heavily confused and I feel that these are not correct in English.

Is there a word (that follows the Greek root, thus the Latin, etc....) for two meanings? Like there is polysemous for many meanings.

Example:

Pythia's oracles had two meanings.

Find X such that I can now say:

Pythia's oracles were X.


Pythia was the "superstar" of The Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece. Her oracles were phrased in such a way that they were almost always correct, but the person that was asking for an oracle would interpret the oracle with the meaning that would be in its favor.

I clearly remember from school when one king (or leader) asked Pythia whether he should launch a massive attack to another Great Power of that times (imagine them like US vs Russia before some decades) and Pythia answered: Should you launch the attack, a great power will be vanished, or something like that, so that oracle was correct, because whoever would lose the war, would be "vanished", but both sides were great at that time.

  • Words with only a few meanings are often said to be ambiguous. Also, bisemous is fine (en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bisemous). Don't trust your auto-correct. – GoldenGremlin Jul 27 '16 at 19:22
  • Are often said mistakenly to be ambiguous? Oh then bisemous should serve as an answer. Shall you post one, please mention whether it is plural of not (if that applies). @Silenus ha that's true! :) – gsamaras Jul 27 '16 at 19:25
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    By the way monosymous, bisemous, and polysemous are all adjectives. As such, they are neither singular nor plural. – GoldenGremlin Jul 27 '16 at 19:39
  • Yeah @Silenus that's why I said if applies. I just asked however, since in Greek you would distinguish πολύσημος from πολύσημοι, given the following/pair word. For example, I would say polysemos oracle (in Greek) and polysemous oracles. But that's not the case in English, as far as I can see, but thanks for pointing that out, really! – gsamaras Jul 27 '16 at 19:55
  • Mono- and poly- are Greek prefixes, so for a prefix in the same series meaning two you would need di-. But I favor ambiguous as better established and as meaning capable of being interpreted in two distinct ways. So no, gsamaras, that is not a mistaken usage. – Brian Donovan Jul 27 '16 at 20:03
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Bisemous is fine, but let me argue for it.

First, consider that monosemy (and monosemous) is recognized by Oxford Dictionary as:

Linguistics

The property of having only one meaning.

Next, consider that polysemy (and polysemous) is also recognized by Oxford Dictionary as:

Linguistics

The coexistence of many possible meanings for a word or phrase.

While bisemous is not recognized by Oxford, it is easily formed and understood on analogy with monosemous and polysemous.

Wiktionary even has an entry on bisemous:

(linguistics)

Having two meanings or interpretations.

Now, some might object that bi- is Latin, not Greek like mono- and poly-. But I would argue that bi- is more easily understood as "two" than the Greek equivalent di-. Further, I personally have encountered bisemous more than disemous, although there are occurrences of the latter.

The fact that your spellchecker doesn't recognize it should not deter you from using it.

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