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Amphibology

 

Techniques > Use of language > Figures of speech > Amphibology

Method | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Amphibology is where there is ambiguity in the grammatical structure, often including mispunctuation.

Example

King Harold walked and talked, ten minutes after he was dead. (should be King Harold walked and talked. Ten minutes after, he was dead).

Medical services here. You won't get better.

Wanted: chair for a person with a wooden leg.

Discussion

Amphibology is different from more general ambiguity, as amphibology refers to the use of grammar rather than directly through words.

Amphibology can easily appear by accident, typically through careless copywriting. It can also be used for deliberate effect. When you offer multiple meaning, you confuse and create attention and deeper thought, which is often desirable.

A phrase with more than one meaning can be risqué, as in the classic 'double entendre'. Amphibology is consequently found in much deliberate humor, where the flexibility of the language is played to delightful effect.

Concern for Amphibology can be found in philosophy, where true meaning is sought, yet ambiguity is found at every turn. It also is common in poetry, where manipulation of meaning is core.

Amphibology comes from the Greek, where 'amphi' means 'on both sides', 'bolos' means 'throw' and 'logos' means 'word'. Thus Amphibology means 'throwing words about on both sides', or 'mixing up words' and hence 'ambiguity'.

Amphibology is also known as amphiboly, amphibologia (the more correct Greek form) and also ambiguitas (because of the ambiguity).

Classification: Meaning, Distortion

See also

Confusion principle, Attention principle, Amphiboly

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