AMBIGUITIES AND INCONGRUITIES
Ambiguous = open to more than one interpretation.
in writing is important. What we say should be clear and unambiguous.
referring here to unintentional ambiguity. The type of ambiguity that makes us laugh or giggle. Or perhaps we shake our head
and think we would never make that mistake.
Headlines in newspapers
can often bring contradictory thoughts to our minds.
Stewart is an Australian who publishes a weekly newsletter entitled “The Write Way”. (You can subscribe here www.write101.com ) Her
18 November 2005 edition featured
some doozies. For example:
Crack Found on Governor's Daughter
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Head Seeks Arms
Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian
Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
Miners Refuse to Work after Death
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
Tape Holds Up New Bridges
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge
Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy
High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
you’ve seen similar in your local or national newspapers. What had the editors been drinking?
be another source of mirth.
these two recently:
Sell your car online for only $9.90 a
car! Would you be satisfied with $9.90 a month for your car? It doesn’t even tell you how long you’ll receive
the monthly payments. LOL
TRY OUR VITAMINS –
YOU WON’T GET BETTER!
Trivia Quiz. Yes, my
local newspaper even introduced ambiguity into the trivia questions which my wife and I dutifully attempt each morning.
THE COFFS COAST ADVOCATE, TUESDAY, MAY 9, 2006
What type of puppets’ movements are controlled by strings?
Answer = Marionettes.
question is actually asking about the “type of movements”, not the type of puppet. The question would be better
of puppet requires strings to control its movements?
Fiction. Here are some instances of ambiguity I’ve found recently when reviewing/editing stories:
I went to the Post Office and spoke with the overweight clerk.
Was it a
clerk who handles overweight postal items? Or do we assume it was an obese postal clerk?
When I was a teenager, I had my first big chest x-ray.
what someone (female) wrote. Perhaps she was proud of her “big chest”.
They sat there, ten year old boys nervously awaiting their punishment.
not referring to ten infants. They probably wouldn’t sit still for long, anyway. The meaning can be revealed by the
use of two judicious hyphens:
sat there, ten-year-old boys nervously awaiting their punishment.
Go out and speak to random foreigners who don’t speak English for at least two hours.
why the “random foreigners” wouldn’t speak English during those two hours. Did they speak English at other
the white woman asked as
they pulled up three legged stools and sat at the lone table.
example of where the lack of a hyphen can produce ambiguity. Only two people were present during that part of the story. Why
did they need three legged-stools? Or were the stools three-legged?
Moral = Avoid ambiguities in your writing. Proofread to ensure your work is clear and concise.
Incongruent = dissimilar, contrasting
these gems were circulated throughout The MuseItUp Club. I’ve called them “incongruities” for want of a
more appropriate tag.
thought I’d share them here. They aptly illustrate the fun and games you can have with the English language.
same words, slightly different pronunciation (in Australia) and different meanings.
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
think of more? Let me know if you do.
and this is really startling. Read through the following paragraph. Olny srmat
“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the
ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a
taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef,
but the wrod as a wlohe.”
is me! I uesd to tinhk slpeling was ipmorantt!
indicates that jumbled passage first appeared on the Internet during September 2003.)
Moral = Incongruities
are fun, but not always appropriate in your stories.
© Les Stephenson 2006
acknowledgement to Jennifer Stewart, and thanks to all those who permitted the use of direct quotations from their stories.