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Word of the Day : May 21, 2011

ambiguous

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adjective am-BIG-yuh-wus

Definition

1 a : doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness

b : inexplicable

2 : capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways

Examples

Jane complained that her boss frequently gave her ambiguous instructions.

"West Virginia's ambiguous law dictating how to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat remains unchanged a year after its quirky wording set off a round of confusion and debate among state officials." -- From an article by Ry Rivard in the Charleston Daily Mail, March 30, 2011



Did You Know?

"Ambiguous," "obscure," "vague," "cryptic," and "equivocal" mean not clearly understandable. "Ambiguous" applies to language capable of more than one interpretation ("an ambiguous suggestion") and derives from the Latin verb "ambigere," meaning "to be undecided." "Obscure" implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge ("obscure poems"). "Vague" implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration ("a vague sense of obligation"). "Cryptic" implies a deliberate attempt to confuse ("cryptic clues about the location of the buried treasure"). "Equivocal" is the best choice for language that creates a wrong or false impression, allowing for uncertainty or promoting mistaken interpretations ("the politician gave an equivocal answer").

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