I am searching for a word that can describe an object or process as having both bad and good elements.

I realize this is a repeat of this previous question, but I do not believe the suggestions answer my question;

  • Egregious, the proposed answer by the OP, is not a common enough word (anyone I have asked has had to look it up), nor does it mean precisely what I'm after,
  • Sick is a word that can be used in both good and bad contexts. It does not actually mean "both good and bad".

The context I am working is biological, specifically cognitive impairment (such as dementia). In a publication I am working on currently, I would like to describe the role of inflammation as having both good and bad roles (depending on the situation).

I can think of possible sayings that might apply, for example "swings and roundabouts" or "bitter-sweet", but again these do not seem formal enough.

Is there a word that fits the context? "Inflammation is a double-edged sword..." but more scientifically!

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    I think you should forgo the hunt for a single word and simply say, "Inflammation has both beneficial and detrimental effects ..." or something along those lines. – Jim Sep 10 '12 at 14:52
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    What Jim said, except that I think "double-edged sword" would suffice in all but the most stuffy of scientific contexts :) – Lynn Sep 10 '12 at 15:25
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    "A mixed blessing". – Edwin Ashworth Sep 10 '12 at 15:44
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    @Lynn I agree, and they would have to be very stuffy indeed: searching Google Scholar for "double-edged sword" returns 84,000 articles, the very first of which is from the prestigious journal Science. – Cameron Sep 10 '12 at 16:50
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    But "egregious" means "incredibly bad". It does not at all mean "can be either good or bad". – Jay Sep 10 '12 at 19:55

10 Answers 10


How about dualistic?

As in the Oxford Dictionary:

Theology .

a. the doctrine that there are two independent divine beings or eternal principles, one good and the other evil.

Seems appropriate to say that inflammation has a dualistic role.

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  • As the definition you quote indicates, "dualism" is a theory in theology. It is unlikely that the original poster wants to say that inflammation causes or is caused by competing good and evil spirits. – Jay Sep 11 '12 at 14:01
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    @Jay while you have a point, the definition of the word is not confined to the domain of theology. – MarioDS Sep 11 '12 at 15:32
  • I think this may be the easiest to immediately interpret what I'm getting at. I will obviously need to explain the concepts I'm talking about initially, but to refer back to the "dualistic nature of the inflammatory response" would work very well indeed. Thanks. – Luke Sep 11 '12 at 16:30
  • @Luke glad to be of help although to be honest I'm surprised that you would call my answer the best. English isn't even my native language and I don't study it or anything. Personally I think you should seriously consider ambivalent and bipolar. – MarioDS Sep 11 '12 at 17:44
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    @Mario: I'd use dualistic before ambivalent or bipolar. Maybe it needs to be used with a little bit of caution, but I think you've made a good suggestion. Don't sell yourself short. – J.R. Sep 11 '12 at 23:29

How about agathocacological?

agathoˌkakoˈlogical, adj. Etymology: < Greek ἀγαθό-ς good + κακό-ς bad + -logical comb. form. nonce-wd.

Composed of good and evil.

or from WordNik agathocacological

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    That's an amazing word; I have full intentions of ostracizing myself with its continuous usage. – Jamie Sep 10 '12 at 15:49
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    Yes, I liked it, and it sounds very scientific as the OP requested. I must crowbar it into a conversation sometime tomorrow. – Roaring Fish Sep 10 '12 at 16:03

Perhaps ambivalent would be of some use; it seems like a reasonable extension of the second meaning:-

Psychology . of or pertaining to the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.

Edit I've just noticed this was also suggested by Karthik at the previous question.

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  • Ambivalent by its correct definition is perfect. Unfortunately, far too many English speakers (including native speakers) think it merely means "undecided" or "not caring one way or the other." – KRyan Sep 10 '12 at 19:17
  • This is good. Along the same lines, ambiguous could also work - it is a little less correct than ambivalent, but it might be more likely to be understood on the first read. – alcas Sep 11 '12 at 2:09

How about twofold:

: having two parts or aspects

The idiom cuts both ways may be a better fit:

to have both advantages and disadvantages

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    An equivalent expression to the second idiom as a metaphor is "a double-edged sword". Usually this idiom or metaphor is used to describe something which would exhibit the good and bad simultaneously. – KeithS Sep 10 '12 at 18:09
  • "Twofold" means a doubling, not one way and another. – KRyan Sep 10 '12 at 19:16
  • The two aspects can differ. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Sep 10 '12 at 19:33

Consider bipolar

having or relating to two poles or extremities:

a sharply bipolar division of affluent and underclass

While this is not limited to good and bad, it should be easy to construct a sentence that reflects the characteristic you are seeking

Inflammation can be bipolar in the effect it brings about on the [insert the process/function affected].

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If you don't mind using a play on words, you could always consider using 'ambidextrous'.

While common definition is that one is good with both hands, (and I have the play here for you, will say later), there is another definition.

characterized by duplicity

(As it had been stated by Merriam-Webster Dictionary.)

The play here, as I mentioned earlier, is that the left hand often symbolizes the 'bad' and the right symbolizes the 'good'.

So one could say that:

Inflammation can be ambidextrous with its roles.

Or rather:

Inflammation is ambidextrous with its roles.

Hope that helps and not wasted time.

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  • Interesting suggestion. Duplicity ("double-dealing") isn't a bad suggestion either! – Luke Sep 13 '12 at 8:13
  • Hope it works for you! (I'm very happy I inserted the other meaning!) Good Luck!! – Souta Sep 13 '12 at 10:40

How about 'mixed results'? That carries the meaning of 'good and bad'.

I also thought of 'multifarious'.

You could say 'inflammation has multifarious outcomes'. Or multifarious effects.


Though multifarious doesn't specifically contain 'positive and negative' - though it does mean 'varied' and that can include nonspecifically good and bad.

I did also find one alternative to 'double-edged sword', 'Patchy' - meaning, varied results.

And I then lastly, thought of 'mixed results' which could do the job quite well - it is sufficiently formal, and carries the meaning of 'good and bad' - as well as 'various'.

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If it doesn't have to be an adjective, I would say the most colloquial thing I can think of is referring to it as being "a mixed bag".

Definition of mixed bag

1 : a miscellaneous collection : ASSORTMENT

2 : one having both positive and negative qualities or aspects


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What about 'Omen'? 'An event regarded as a portent of good or evil.' There are good and bad omens, so it may be a valid answer to this:)

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  • Where is that quote from? Always indicate your sources. – RegDwigнt Jul 26 '13 at 21:37

Awesome: usually used to mean 'impressive' but literally means awe inspiring. Both good and bad things can be awesome, (at the extremity of their category.)

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  • Something can be "awesomely good" or it could be "awesomely bad", but that doesn't mean that "awesome" by itself means that it can be both. It's like saying "very". – Jay Sep 10 '12 at 19:58
  • "I saw Gods power and it was awesome" "The devils works are awesome". "awesomely good" is a tautology. – Alexx Roche Sep 10 '12 at 20:59
  • @Jay 's point is that "awesome" does not answer the question. The OP wants a word that specifically connotes "both good and bad". "Awesome" does not specifically connote "both good and bad"; it has a different meaning (impressive or awe inspiring) that does not have the requested connotation. – MetaEd Sep 11 '12 at 12:34

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