Ambiguity (899 words)

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

  • John Phillips (National University of Singapore)
  • Chrissie Tan (National University of Singapore)
  • The Literary Encyclopedia. Volume : WORLD HISTORY AND IDEAS: A CROSS-CULTURAL VOLUME.


The meaning of a word or sign is described as ambiguous if it is open to more than one interpretation or explanation. The term is used in rhetoric to denote one of many vices, or stylistic faults. The rhetorical vice of ambiguitas (the Latin translation of the classical Greek amphibologia) describes an ambiguity of grammatical structure often brought about by the poor use of punctuation. Ambiguity as a stylistic fault remains a current concern, as the continuing popularity of often humorous grammar primers shows. In rhetoric, however, a use of language that in one sense exemplifies a stylistic vice may, in another, exemplify a virtue. So locutions that foster double meanings and equivocal senses abound in the history …

Phillips, John, Chrissie Tan. "Ambiguity". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 27 July 2005
[, accessed 22 October 2016.]