There is more than one way to interpret the title of the hit film "Crazy Rich Asians." In the film it is suggested that "crazy rich" means "impossibly rich," but as written it could also mean crazy (rich Asians)? The ambiguity is no doubt intentional, but how would you construct the two interpretations to make them unambiguous?

  • 3
    It's an intentionally ambiguous phrasing. There is no definitive interpretation by design.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 13 '18 at 3:29
  • @Dan I know it's ambiguous by design. My question is how do you make it unambiguous. Or at least an explanation of how it is constructed to make it ambiguous.
    – Zan700
    Sep 13 '18 at 6:35
  • @Dan There are charts that show the order in which adjectives go before nouns. For example, if the adjectives are red, big, three (please accept three as an adjective for this example), and you were describing balls, you would write "three big red balls," and there would be no ambiguity: color goes closest to the noun, size before color and number before size. Is it the order of crazy and rich that provides the ambiguity?
    – Zan700
    Sep 13 '18 at 7:16

The answer is to change the adjective, the term crazy is ambiguous and polysemous, it is often used to intensify emotions and activities e.g. “crazy in love”, “crazy about Thai food”, “football-crazy”, and “crazy golf”.

Speakers wanting to avoid ambiguity, will select different adjectives.

  • Extremely rich Asians (very wealthy)
  • Insane (not insanely) rich Asians (mentally unwell or unstable)

Janus Bahs Jacquet, in the comments below, has offered a smart solution

  • Crazy-rich Asians (the hyphenated compound means incredibly wealthy)
  • Crazy, rich Asians

separating the two adjectives with a comma or a conjunction (and) prevents crazy from modifying rich. Hence the phrase can literally mean Asians who are either madcap (and its derivatives: eccentric, weird, odd, etc.) or insane (mentally unstable) and wealthy)

  • 3
    Alternatively, just use a comma or a hyphen: crazy-rich Asians are extremely rich, whereas crazy, rich Asians are bonkers. Sep 13 '18 at 8:17
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet I wonder: would rich crazy Asians violate adjective ordering restrictions in a way that crazy rich Asians does not?
    – tchrist
    Sep 13 '18 at 11:53
  • @tchrist Not to me, no. Both seem perfectly fine to me; I suppose mental and fiscal state do not have a fixed internal stacking order. Sep 13 '18 at 12:05

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