am·​phi·​bol·​o·​gy | \ ˌam(p)-fə-ˈbä-lə-jē How to pronounce amphibology (audio) \
plural amphibologies

Definition of amphibology

: a sentence or phrase (such as "nothing is good enough for you") that can be interpreted in more than one way

Did You Know?

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?)

First Known Use of amphibology

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for amphibology

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about amphibology

Time Traveler for amphibology

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about amphibology

Statistics for amphibology

Cite this Entry

“Amphibology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Nov. 2020.

Comments on amphibology

What made you want to look up amphibology? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!