noun am·phi·bol·o·gy \ˌam(p)-fə-ˈbä-lə-jē\

Definition of amphibology



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

amphibology was our Word of the Day on 03/30/2015. Hear the podcast!

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?)

Origin and Etymology of amphibology

Middle English amphibologie, from Late Latin amphibologia, alteration of Latin amphibolia, from Greek, from amphibolos

First Known Use: 14th century

Seen and Heard

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to criticize severely

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