Amphiboly and Amphibology


Amphiboly or Amphibology is a form of syntactic ambiguity. That is to say, it describes a linguistic situation in which a sentence may be interpreted in more than one way due to an ambiguous sentence structure.

“John saw the man on the mountain with a telescope.”
“Flying planes can be dangerous.”

The duke yet lives that Henry shall depose.Henry VI (1.4.30), by William Shakespeare

Owing to the alteration of the natural order of words for metrical reasons, it is not uncommon to find amphiboly in poetic literature. This sentence could either be taken to mean that Henry will depose the duke, or that the duke will depose Henry.

“Thief gets nine months in violin case.”
“Prostitutes appeal to pope.”

I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.Lola by Ray Davies

This sentence could mean “Lola and I are both glad I’m a man”, or “I’m glad Lola and I are both men”, or even “I’m glad I’m a man, and Lola is also glad to be a man”. Ray Davies deliberately wrote this ambiguity into the song Lola, referring to a cross-dresser.

“British left waffles on Falkland Islands.”
“Juvenile court will try shooting accused.”

Ibis redibis nunquam per bella peribis. — often attributed to the Oracle at Dodona

This Latin phrase could mean “you will go, you will return, never in war will you perish”; however, the other possibility is the exact opposite in meaning “you will go, you will never return, in (the) war you will perish”.

“Red tape holds up new bridge.”
“Sex education delayed, teachers request training.”

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