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I'm looking for a term -- from linguistics or semantics -- that indicates phrases of this structure have TWO (possible) senses:
- Men are taller than women.
- Seafood costs more than hamburger.
- Anchors are heavier that water.
The construction is fungible, and in some cases means "tends to", and it others it means "in all cases".
The first two sentences are true IF you interpret them as meaning "tend to", or "in the mean"
- The median height of men is a few inches taller than the median height of women.
- In most cases, seafood costs more than hamburger.
The third sentence is true in the "all" and "always" sense:
- All anchors are heavier than water.
- Anchors are always heavier than water.
Sentences like these are common in everyday speech, where the "tends to" or "always" is implied and/or clear from context, and the subject matter is not emotionally sensitive.
So I'm looking for the term, so when I DO stumble in to a conversation where someone makes a comment like that, and someone else argues (example: "but I know plenty of women who are taller than certain men!") I can say: "Hold it, timeout; that statement is just a SOMETHING-ism; it has two meanings, depending if you interpret in to mean 'tends to' or 'all'. Let's figure out which the speaker intended, and then lets go from there."
(I imagine someone will point me to a refernce to "E-prime" and inform me of the dangers of the verb "to be". OK, granted. But what is the TERM for this ambiguity or ambiguous construction?)