am·​phi·​bol·​o·​gy ˌam(p)-fə-ˈbä-lə-jē How to pronounce amphibology (audio)
plural amphibologies
: a sentence or phrase (such as "nothing is good enough for you") that can be interpreted in more than one way

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A venerable old word in English, amphibology is from Greek amphibolos (via Late Latin and Latin). Amphibolos, from amphi- ("both") and ballein ("to throw"), literally means "encompassing" or "hitting at both ends"; figuratively it means "ambiguous." Amphibology is an equivocator's friend. An editor who has been sent an unsolicited manuscript to critique, for example, might reply, "I shall lose no time in reading your book." Or a dinner guest who feels the onset of heartburn might say something like, "Ah, that was a meal I shall not soon forget!" But amphibology’s ambiguity can be unintended and undesirable as well, as in "When Mom talked to Judy, she said she might call her back the next day." (Who said who might call whom back?)

Word History


Middle English amphibologie "double meaning, ambiguity," borrowed from Late Latin amphibologia, alteration (by assimilation to the final element -logia -logy) of Latin amphibolia, borrowed from Greek amphibolía "state of being attached on two sides, double meaning, ambiguity," from amphíbolos "attached on both sides, doubtful, ambiguous" + -ia -y entry 2 — more at amphibole

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of amphibology was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near amphibology

Cite this Entry

“Amphibology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jul. 2024.

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