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The Ambiguity Thread


StringJunky
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Inspired by another thread, I thought it might be good to have a place to put funny or otherwise notable ambiguities, and any comments about them in general 

Here's some that have been posted already elsewhere by TheVat:

    

Kids make nutritious snacks

Miners refuse to work after death

Panda mating fails, veterinarian takes over

Old school pillars are replaced by alumni

One I've found: 

A woman in the UK gives birth every 48 seconds

Edited by StringJunky
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I enthusiastically recommend Trump with no qualifications whatsoever. In my opinion, we'd be very fortunate to get him to actually work for us. I can assure you that no person would be better for the job. I can't say enough good things about him, nor recommend him too highly.

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More "textbook" examples (from Yule, George. The Study of Language:

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

Annie bumped into a man with an umbrella.

Their child has grown another foot.

I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know. (Groucho Marx)

These are designed for small boys and girls.

The parents of the bride and groom were waiting outside.

The students complained to everyone that they couldn’t understand.

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British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands

 

4 hours ago, StringJunky said:

 

A woman in the UK gives birth every 48 seconds

There's a scene from The Meaning of Life which that one calls to mind.

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Example I once read about AI in the domain of language understanding. It has 4 (at least?) meanings:

"They saw the girl with the binoculars."

 

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Combinations of negative with composite sentences are my favourites.

With imperative:

1) Don't just sit there and introduce yourself!

2) Don't just sit around and eat!

(Solved with a comma in writing, and with voice modulation when speaking.)

With 'because':

I didn't marry him because of the money.

Nice topic, BTW.

3 hours ago, Eise said:

Example I once read about AI in the domain of language understanding. It has 4 (at least?) meanings:

"They saw the girl with the binoculars."

 

I found 4 possible meanings. Some of them are gruesome. One, bordering plain absurd. But nice example! :D 

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16 minutes ago, Eise said:

I assume you've got the correct four meanings...

image.thumb.png.d92f542b88b5b3ae4bd83a20eca70fb8.png

Yes, It works in Dutch too.

Yes. My rendering:

They saw the girl who was carrying carries the binoculars

They, with the help of some binoculars, saw the girl

They spotted the girl, who was carrying some binoculars

They spotted the girl with the help of some binoculars

Nice example!

First and second: 'saw" = use a saw to cut something

18 minutes ago, Eise said:

Yes, It works in Dutch too.

Is the ambiguity also in 'zagen' and 'met'?

Edited by joigus
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https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/254896-a-panda-walks-into-a-cafe-he-orders-a-sandwich

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.

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19 hours ago, joigus said:

Is the ambiguity also in 'zagen' and 'met'?

Yep. Funny isn't it? The words are different, but they work semantically exactly the same:

"Zagen": present tense of 'to saw', past tense of 'to see'

"Met': 'with', with (!) the same ambiguities as in English.

You have a talent for Dutch! :rolleyes:

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21 hours ago, iNow said:

Rachel Ray finds inspiration....

It seems as if texting has generally decreased awareness of the uses of punctuation marks like the comma.  Just one would have helped that sentence convey its intended meaning (and deprived us of a good laugh).  What's funny is the title above that sentence made full use of commas.  

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1 hour ago, TheVat said:

It seems as if texting has generally decreased awareness of the uses of punctuation marks like the comma.  Just one would have helped that sentence convey its intended meaning (and deprived us of a good laugh).  What's funny is the title above that sentence made full use of commas.  

I didn't see it as a multiple comma violation. I thought they left out the word "for", as in "Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking FOR her family and her dog".

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1 minute ago, Phi for All said:

I didn't see it as a multiple comma violation. I thought they left out the word "for", as in "Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking FOR her family and her dog".

It's ambiguous that way

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I was offended, but nevertheless amused to see a graffiti addition to a sign asking for people to help funding the spastics association (now renamed Scope, I think).

They turned " Help spastics" into "Help! spastics!".
 

 

Chemistry (and I guess other) journals are full of instances of a particular type of error.

The material was analysed using chromatography.

There's only one thing there that can be doing anything, and that includes chromatography... Did the material analyse itself?
Compare it to "The celebrity was photographed using cocaine".


My all time favourite is from a wartime newspaper. The punctuation etc is perfectly correct.
A headline that was drafted as 
British army push
bottles up Germans

had been repositioned as 

British army
push bottles
up Germans

And then there's English spelling.... but that's another subject.

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9 hours ago, Genady said:

AFAIK ambiguities exist in all human languages. I wonder, is it a bug or a feature? Or, maybe, a side effect?

Of course, I'm not the first asking this question. Here is a 10 years old article, The advantage of ambiguity in language -- ScienceDaily.

The opinion of these MIT linguists is that a context disambiguates well enough, so that a language can reuse some parts:

"once we understand that context disambiguates, then ambiguity is not a problem -- it's something you can take advantage of, because you can reuse easy [words] in different contexts over and over again."

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23 hours ago, Genady said:

AFAIK ambiguities exist in all human languages. I wonder, is it a bug or a feature? Or, maybe, a side effect?

It seems to me to be a method to attack a sentence/idea I don't agree with; a good legal document is free of ambiguity but not free of disagreement. 

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On 4/26/2022 at 9:14 AM, Eise said:

Yep. Funny isn't it? The words are different, but they work semantically exactly the same:

"Zagen": present tense of 'to saw', past tense of 'to see'

"Met': 'with', with (!) the same ambiguities as in English.

You have a talent for Dutch! :rolleyes:

Thanks, Eise. I think the Dutch --both the language and the people-- are special in many ways, and in a very good way. But ambiguity is certainly no privilege of the Dutch. It's --arguably-- ubiquitous with human communication. It's sure enough present in the animal kingdom too.

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Finnish: kuusi palaa

could translate to any of the following:

The spruce is burning
The spruce returns
The number six is burning
The number six returns
Six of them are burning
Six of them return
Your moon is burning
Your moon returns
Six pieces

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"I Vitelli dei Romani sono belli."

The meaning depends on which language it is written in: Italian or Latin:

  • Italian: The Romans' calves are beautiful.
  • Latin: Go, Vitellius, at the Roman god's sound of war.

Another interesting kind of ambiguity.

Same with: "Cane nero magna bella persica!"

  • The black dog eats a nice peach
  • Sing, o Nero, the great Persian wars!
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It ^^ is interesting but I don't think it fits a definition of ambiguity. There are many words that sound the same in different languages, but have different meanings in them. With a little work, one can make short sentences out of these words. Or, a joke. 

One of popular jokes among Russian speaking immigrants in Israel was to write back to there Russian friends a sentence which in English means, We live in a hole and swim in a pit. It works because Russian word for 'hole' (дыра) is the same as Hebrew word for apartment (דירה), and Russian word for 'pit' (яма) is the same as Hebrew word for sea (ים). We get new effect by mixing languages.

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