I'm seeking a word or phrase useful for referring to a bad sentence which clumsily, inaccurately and ambiguously attempts to express an idea or concept.

Bad-sentence example: "We do a multiplication of 60 of the 10^10 terms to get us to 10^600 and then a multiplication of 10^3 terms to reach 10^603."

Phrases incorporating 'mangled', 'tortured ', 'muddled' and 'still-born' may resemble what I want, but seem overly judgmental.

Update (Response to questions about example; with 'infelicity' and 'solecism' adopted from an answer)

Inaccurate -- The sentence (from a sci.math newsgroup posting by "AP") is inaccurate or misleading in first using the "multiplication of ..." infelicity one way for the (10^10)^60 calculation, and then a different way for the (10^600)*(10^3) calculation. That is, if the first case means (10^10)^60, the second might be thought to mean either (10^10)^(10^3) or (10^600)^(10^3).

Clumsy -- The solecisms "a multiplication of 60 of the 10^10 terms to get us to 10^600" and "a multiplication of 10^3 terms to reach 10^603" are longwinded and ambiguous ways to say "compute 10^600 as the 60th power of 10^10" and "compute 10^603 as (10^600)*(10^3)".

  • I am not sure that your example is 'clumsy, inaccurate and ambiguous'. Assuming there is at least a some context in which this sentence exists it might not be inaccurate nor ambiguous at all. Can you give more examples?
    – Unreason
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 8:04
  • @Unreason Yesterday I overlooked your request for more examples, but rather than more examples have today added some details about the current one. Thanks! Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 4:49

7 Answers 7


You might be looking for

solecism |ˈsäləˌsizəm, ˈsō-|
a grammatical mistake in speech or writing.

or possibly

malaprop |ˈmaləˌpräp|(also malapropism )
the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, “dance a flamingo ” (instead of flamenco).

or perhaps my personal favorite

infelicity |ɪnfɪˈlɪsɪti|
noun ( pl. infelicities )
1 a thing that is inappropriate, especially a remark or expression: she winced at their infelicities and at the clumsy way they talked.

(All citations from NOAD.)

  • Although the answer is educational, OP is not looking for stylistic vices that add to 'clumsiness, inaccuracy and ambiguity'. Also note that solecism only deals with grammatical mistake that OP did not ask for. A more complete list of stylistic vices can be found here: rhetoric.byu.edu/Figures/Groupings/Vices.htm and most of them (except possibly the ones that deal with repetition) are related to the question in the same way malapropism is.
    – Unreason
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 8:40
  • @Unreason: These are not "stylistic vices that add to 'clumsiness, inaccuracy, and ambiguity,'" they are instances of maladroitness of speech or writing, and hence constitute "a word or phrase useful for referring to a bad sentence ..." as the OP sets forth in the first sentence of the question.
    – Robusto
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 12:56

I usually use the word obscure to refer to an ambiguous and overly verbose sentence.


Pending the clarification of your question here's a brief exposition of mechanisms that might be at play here:

You ask for a single term that describes 'clumsiness, inaccuracy and ambiguity', however usually such erroneous properties are classified into two categories: stylistic vices and (logical) fallacies.

Ambiguity as fallacy is well defined here (and I feel it might cover inaccuracy as well).

Clumsiness on the other hand is a very vague term which can be aided by any number of stylistic vices, listed here.

Single term might be possible, but you will have to be more precise or be satisfied with general terms such as 'muddled' that you propose yourself. If this is the course that you want to take, which might not be more judgmental than the more exact classifications presented above, but is definitively harder to argue for, you should look at synonyms of

  • ambiguous eg. cryptic, dubious, enigmatic, equivocal, inconclusive, indefinite, indeterminate, inexplicit, muddy, multivocal, obscure, opaque, polysemous, puzzling, questionable, tenebrous, uncertain, unclear, unintelligible, vague
  • inaccurate eg. careless, counterfactual, defective, discrepant, fallacious, false, faulty, imprecise, in error, incorrect, inexact, mistaken, off, off base, unreliable, unsound, wrong
  • clumsy1 eg. blundering, bulky, bumbling, bungling, butterfingered, clownish, crude, elephantine, gauche, gawkish, gawky, graceless, ill-shaped, incompetent, inelegant, inept, ponderous, stumbling, unadept, uncoordinated, uncouth, uneasy, ungainly, unhandy, unskillful, untactful, untoward, weedy

out of which it might be the safest to go with unclear.

1 The antonyms of 'clumsy' are more subjective as it might be expected, since 'clumsy' itself is essentially less objective than the terms 'ambiguous' and 'inaccurate'. You might want to ignore them if you are striving not to be perceived as judgmental.

Also, do look at the synonyms of synonyms, too. There is a myriad of terms that might apply, depending on what you actually need.


Possible options:

  • confusing; abstruse
  • incoherent; inarticulate
  • tongue-tied; word-bound (about a speaker and not a phrase, though)
  • cumbersome
  • -1 for inarticulate and tongue-tied Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 2:38
  • Though abstruse is a fine word, it is defined as 1. difficult to understand, which might not be due to badly written text, but due to complexity (and OP needs to clarify the question, I find his example simply a bit complex and it might not be ambiguous)
    – Unreason
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 9:31
  • @Unreason (and rems) While 'abstruse' does mean difficult to comprehend or understand, it does not denote (nor, I think, connote) incorrect or clumsy. [On another note, I see that 'recondite' has a sense synonymous with abstruse; but 'recondite' also has a sense unwelcome in present case: "Of a person: highly talented, a master of a field".] Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 5:07
  • @rems You are right that the example sentence is confusingly and a little incoherently written. 'Incoherent' is stronger and 'confusing' is weaker than I wanted; however, I ended up using a fairly weak term anyway ('misleading') in a response. Commented Oct 19, 2011 at 5:18


Sorry, for my ham-fisted attempt at an earlier post...i still feel it's appropriate in response to to the initial query


try "botched", it's English, it's not judgmental as to not indicating the correctness but just the way of delivering, and rarely employed, so unusual.See here: botch

verbinformal past tense: botched; past participle: botched 1. carry out (a task) badly or carelessly. "he was accused of botching the job" synonyms: bungle, do badly, do clumsily, make a mess of, mismanage, mishandle, mangle, fumble;


Maybe not quite what you're looking for but verbose may fit.

using or expressed in more words than are needed.

Edit: Superfluous is another possible word, but it doesn't quite indicate something being inaccurate or ambiguous either.

unnecessary, especially through being more than enough.

  • I wouldn't say that the term verbose implies either inaccuracy or ambiguity in a statement. Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 19:58
  • @KillingTime oh that's true. Commented Sep 12, 2021 at 20:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.