Wikipedia talk:Ambiguous words

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This article is a proposal for a guideline on the use of ambiguous words.

Why should there be a policy on ambiguous words?

The simple answer to this is because there isn’t one. Whilst some aspects of this proposal are covered by other policies, such as verifiability and neutral point of view, the lack of clear guidelines on ambiguous terms has led to arguments over the interpretation of these policies. Specifically, it has led to heated arguments over “POV-pushing” because the current (lack of) guidelines allows ambiguous terms to be used in a way that some editors see as non-neutral. Currently, the only references to ambiguous terms are some examples given in the NPOV FAQ. There is no “over-arching” policy or guideline and the examples given are inconsistent in their application. Worse still, some of these examples have been written by adherents of one side or the other of the various arguments in an apparent attempt to “justify” their point of view.

I believe that a coherent policy on ambiguous words will lead to fewer arguments and lead to more genuinely neutral articles. The policy, after all, does not actually ask editors to do very much: avoid “woolly” terminology; provide a viewpoint for terms that are open to interpretation; and provide context or explanation to clarify which definition is intended when a term has multiple definitions. This really isn’t a lot to ask, but it has wide-ranging ramifications.

In the context of where I entered this debate, the article Noah’s Ark, it would not be sufficiently unambiguous to use the current lead, as this lead includes the word “myths” to describe the story. Whilst some editors have argued that this is the correct term, used by academics and easily cited, others have argued that the term “myth” can also mean “a made-up story” and that this is the more common understanding of the term among the general populace. If the current article is adopted as policy, then the term “myths” in the lead of the Noah’s Ark article would require additional context or explanation. Because it is currently in the lead, this would almost certainly be unworkable, as it would make the lead so cumbersome as to be unfit according to the manual of style.

Articles need to be concise; but not at the expense of clarity. I believe that a clear policy on ambiguous terms will help create greater clarity.

This discussion has been flagged on the following pages:

Suggestions for other pages welcomed. — Preceding unsigned comment added by FimusTauri (talkcontribs)


Before commenting I need to give a little more history than Fimus offers. As his third paragraph alludes to, this proposal is an attempt to remove or restrict use of the term myth. It follows discussions on the Noah's Ark talk page, the Christian mythology talk page, the village pump and the NPOV talk page, the latter three of which Fimus started. More than this, it seems like an attempt to circumvent, or remove from any prominent view, scholarship on the issue.

Putting all of that aside though, this proposal seems like an awfully long way to say "write well", and I think that is handled more than adequately in many other guidelines. With respect to the term myth that Fimus is concerned about, in religious articles the intended meaning of the word is clear. On top of being an article related to religion, to say specifically featuring in the myths of Abrahamic religions, as in the Noah's Ark article, is more than enough context to draw upon the intended meaning. This is not a defence of the current version of the Noah's Ark introduction, though it was the compromise reached on the articles talk page, so until a better version is brought forward on that articles talk page, I will stand by it.

Speaking even more generally than the term myth though, I don't think it's possible to have an overarching policy advising against using certain terms. It's something that is probably best off handled on a topic by topic basis, where a reflection of the terminology used in the reliable sources and good writing should be our guide, and the talk page of articles used for discussion. Consider for instance the term 'theory', and how this guideline would apply to it. Certainly the term is ambiguous without any context, yes we should use it in the general relativity article, no we shouldn't use it in the intelligent design article, and, as an example of poor writing, no we shouldn't write 'evolution is just a theory' in the evolution article. For problem word usage like this we already have WP:NPOV and WP:WTA. Cheers, Ben (talk) 13:13, 16 February 2009 (UTC)

I was determined not to comment on this again until plenty of others had had their say, but Ben has raised some specific points that I feel I must defend. Ben is correct in stating that this discussion has continued over several talk pages and also that I instigated three of these. In my defense, I started the Village pump discussion when I was still relatively new and unsure of procedure. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gone straight to the RfC on the NPOV/FAQ page. I instigated the current discussion because, during the course of the discussion on NPOV, I realised that the issue of ambiguous words is much wider than I had originally realised and, more importantly, not specifically an issue of NPOV.
This article is not about "myth" - it is about ambiguous words - discussions about "myth" should be confined to relevant places. Equally, this article is attached to the Manual of Style. It is not about NPOV. In creating this discussion I have agreed to stop talking about ambiguity on the NPOV/FAQ discussion. This discussion is about the use of ambiguous words, not NPOV - and not specifically "myth".--FimusTauri (talk) 13:36, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
You're looking for a wedge, Fimus. Be it from a general policy, NPOV or MoS angle, you're looking for a wedge to remove or hide terminology that doesn't describe aspects of your religion in the best possible way - even if that means removing a description all together. I'm sorry, but I'm beyond assuming good faith, especially with assumptions of bad faith being built into your RfC's now. I have to ask too, what is wrong with suggesting an RfC somewhere to see what others think before launching them across Wikipedia? Starting RfC's left and right to see how they turn out, instead of asking for feedback/advice/whatever before submitting them, is poor form - new to Wikipedia or not. Ben (talk) 14:02, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
I am not surprised at Ben's response, since adoption of this or a similar policy would mean he "loses" the argument (about "myth") by default, as it were. However, I am dismayed at his attitude. Ben, please restrict yourself to attacking the policy, not the person.--FimusTauri (talk) 14:08, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
And I should add that a) I do not have a religion and have never indicated that I do, and b) To imply that I am working on the basis of some religious ideology is extremely offensive--FimusTauri (talk) 14:15, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
  • More to the point, there is no significant support for this proposal, even as a guideline, even if it were not rulescreep. KillerChihuahua?!? 15:52, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
As the proposal is now, I wouldn't oppose it: it is phrased in a broad, general way and does not include any polemic term, such as war, terrorist, myth and so on, proposing its use or non-use. If it did, it would be immediately be seen as backing a certain option over another. Examples such as "bright" are great because they can't be interpreted as giving weight to a certain viewpoint over the other. I don't like too much the pig example, because it's ambiguous in itself and include words as a good thing which anyhow are not allowed at Wikipedia.
That said, I agree also with what Ben says: the whole debate has come up because people have opposed the use of the term myth in certain entries, on the ground - and that's very important - that it could hurt the feelings of believers. And I'm very clear in my rejection of a policy drawn to avoid hurting the feelings of believers (or the feeling of any people, be it nationalists, communists or government officials who can't stand reading that their regime is corrupt). I do so for the following reason: if a policy provided for not hurting the feelings of believers, than we should immediately change the lead in a lot of WP articles, starting with Sun, because there it says "The Sun is a star". Now, the same people who say that Noah's Ark is actually not a myth because it's written in the Bible and therefore must be literal truth would immediately come up and remind us that according to Gen 1, 16, the sun and the stars were created as different things, so the sun cannot be a star and should be instead called a "celestial body". Of course, the following sentence "The Earth orbits the Sun" must absolutely be rephrased to "Many scientists think, although others disagree, that the Earth orbits the Sun" (almost all Christian scholars up to Robert Bellarmine disagreed strongly).
That does not mean that I advocate the word myth being included necessarily in every place where it applies or could apply. As I always said, that is for editors to decide on each topic, and if somebody comes up with a good alternative wording, it will certainly not be me who stands in the way. What I oppose is a guideline which forces us to come up with a good wording excluding a certain term.
So I can agree to the proposal of FimusTauri if, and only if, it does not provide a basis to exclude terms on the ground that these could hurt the feelings of certain people. If it is just designed to provide for a correct, clear and concise writing style, than I'm okay with it. But than I agree also the Ben's question: do we really need it?--Ilyacadiz (talk) 16:25, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
Fimus, the latest version of the proposal for a Faq addition worked out by you, me, and Ludwigs2 at NPOV/FAQ, seems much more to the point, and clarifies existing policy: Don't you think it would be better to continue to work on that? Here is where it is now:
"There are some descriptive words, such as 'fundamentalism' and 'myth', that can have multiple, often pejorative connotations depending on their context. These words are acceptable to use without attributation only when there is no sourced dispute in the context of the topic being described. However, where there is any significant and verifiably sourced disagreement over their application in such a context, then these words should ideally be attributed to their sources, carefully explaining the nature of the dispute and all significant stances with sourced citations if possible - otherwise, these words should be replaced with less contested terminology. Citations may contain biased or disparaging language, but wikipedia editors must take care that such language remains closely tied to the sources and does not impart a biased tone to the article as a whole."
Let's continue discussing and working on this proposal at the NPOV/FAQ. Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 20:10, 16 February 2009 (UTC)
This proposal is terminally vague; if it were not for this talk-page discussion, I would have no idea that this was about myth, or how it was intended to apply. If it were to be taken with the utmost literalness, it could preclude WP being written in a natural language at all. On both grounds, I oppose it ever being policy; I am tagging it an essay, with no objection to being reproposed when clarified. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 00:33, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

I have no objection to continuing to work on the policy at NPOV/FAQ. That discussion is about NPOV. This discussion is about MoS. It is a seperate, but related issue. Whilst the discussion originally may have been about the word "myth", the proposal here is about ambiguous words in general. If the pro-myth dogmatists would remove their blinkers for a few seconds and read what this policy is actually about then I seriously doubt anyone would have any objection to it.

This policy actually allows the use of the word myth (or any other ambiguous term) anywhere - it only asks for clarity of meaning.

This is a simple compromise between the two camps in many disputes, not just over the word "myth", that would considerably reduce the arguments fought.

Septentrionalis, I think you are utterly out of order for removing the proposal tag. For a start, you clearly do not understand what the proposal is about. Secondly, you have no consensus for doing so. Third, the policy on proposals is that they should remain in place for at least a week. I'll give you a little time to respond and then I will restore the tag.--FimusTauri (talk) 09:31, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

I can certainly see tagging it as an essay, because it does read like an essay. If this is a proposed policy, shouldn't it be precise, avoid far-out, distracting comparisons like a villager finding a pig, be to the point, and perhaps use a dictionary definition of 'ambiguous'? Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 14:36, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
How about an example from the editing of an actual article where an ambiguous term was neatly clarified? I think it might be hard for editors to get their heads around villagers finding a pig, when it's so unlike anything that would be written in a typical article. Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 14:44, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
At least that is a constructive criticism of the proposal. Taking that literally, how about
Ambiguous is defined[1] as
  1. Open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations; equivocal.
  2. Linguistics. (of an expression) exhibiting constructional homonymity; having two or more structural descriptions.
  3. Of doubtful or uncertain nature; difficult to comprehend, distinguish, or classify.
  4. Lacking clearness or definiteness; obscure; indistinct.
Words which are inherently ambiguous (equivocal) should be avoided. However, there are many words which are ambiguous because they have more than one interpretation or definition.
Words with multiple interpretations are generally used to express a point of view. Use of such words is governed by Wikipedia's policy on neutrality.
Words with multiple definitions tend to cause the greatest problems, because the individual definitions may not be ambiguous. The ambiguity arises because the reader may not be certain as to which definition is intended by the editor. In such cases, always provide sufficient context or explanation to make it clear to any reader which definition is intended.
Is that any better? I am happy to replace the existing proposal with that above and then discuss that if that is what is required.--FimusTauri (talk) 15:00, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
I think that's definitely a great improvement! It's up to you if you want to change it of course. Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 15:23, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

Fimus has made it quite clear that this proposal is nothing more than a wedge - a way to indirectly support his campaign against certain uses of the word myth. There are reasons that this guideline does not exist already. Firstly, it is unnecessary. Clarity of meaning is part of good writing. Nobody needs to be told not to be unclear, as if that would've otherwise been their intention. Secondly, it is dangerous. It gives no method to determine if something is too ambiguous, meaning editors have to make personal judgements, as they always have. The only purpose it can serve is as a club to bludgeon people claiming a particular sentence isn't ambiguous. Ilkali (talk) 16:24, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

In the light of everything below, the above comment is utterly ignorable.--FimusTauri (talk) 16:32, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

I have now changed the proposal in accordance with that written above. In the light of this, I think we need a new section: (Unsigned by Til EulenspiegelFimusTauri)

Responses to the revised proposal[edit]

I thought some concrete examples might help, wasn't sure the best place to look but found this in my own contribs: [2]

"Up to the 19th century, Classical Armenian had been the literary language; since then, the Armenian alphabet is used to write the two modern, literary, spoken dialects – Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian – which were forged during the same time period."

"Forged" was changed to "developed" since "forged" might confuse someone at first, if they are thinking "forgery" for example... Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 15:44, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

What does Words which are inherently ambiguous (equivocal) should be avoided mean? If someone has word 'x', how do they determine if it is inherently ambiguous?
What about Words with multiple interpretations are generally used to express a point of view. . Use of such words is governed by Wikipedia's policy on neutrality. Really? Maybe you should point this out with a summary of the relevant section of WP:NPOV. Again, people need to know how to determine that a word has multiple interpretations. What are the objective criteria for determining this?
In your last paragraph, you ask editors to always provide sufficient context or explanation to make it clear to any reader which definition is intended. We shouldn't be explaining terminology unless the article is defining the term. For instance, we don't explain what the term 'theory' means in a scientific article, or 'myth' means in a religious article. However, the articles theory and mythology can and should do this. We can also link to wiktionary if wikipedia doesn't have an article that discusses a particular term. I agree, however, that if more than one definition of a term exists then sufficient context should be given to draw upon the intended definition. I suspect that in most cases the articles topic will be sufficient, for instance, it should be clear the intended definition of the term theory and myth in the articles general relativity and creation myth respectively. Editors may like to give further clarification by actually stating 'scientific theory' or 'myths of Abrahamic religions', or something along those lines, to link the term to its intended meaning, but should avoid dictionary definitions and instead rely on a wikilink. Cheers, Ben (talk) 16:02, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
Re: Again, people need to know how to determine that a word has multiple interpretations. What are the objective criteria for determining this? Dictionaries? Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 16:09, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
My dictionaries give definitions, not interpretations. Ben (talk) 16:14, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
What's the difference? Aren't definitions and interpretations the same thing here, or what is the difference? Would it help to say 'definition' instead of 'interpretation?' I thought dictionaries explained what all the possible meanings of a word are. Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 16:18, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
In response to Til: yes, concrete examples are a good idea and if anyone can come up with something suitable that we can all agree on then we can insert them.
In response to Ben: Thank you for providing constructive criticism of the proposal. With regards to "inherently ambiguous", I think a reference to the relevent dictionary definition(s) should clarify this point. On the point about multiple interpretations, I did not want this article to be about NPOV, as it is about style, and simply wanted to point an editor in the direction of the relevent policy. If you feel that more concrete examples and explanation is required then I am sure we can work towards that.
On the third point, we are actually (very broadly) in agreement. I dislike infoboxes, disclaimers and pointlessly repetitive definitions. This is not what this article is about. If anyone is writing an article and realises that a word has multiple definitions, then it very often only requires the addition of a word or two to clarify which definition is intended. Usually, a moments thought can resolve the issue. To use your example, "myths of Abrahamic religions" does provide sufficient context, as we discussed in Noah's Ark, because the surrounding text is phrased to avoid saying that the story is a myth. The issue there really (for me) came down to the fact that in the lead there is insufficient space to clarify this point without making the sentence "ugly". The resulting two-sentence structure resolved this [Til, I am referring specifically to the style here, not to issues of NPOV]. Again, adding "scientific" to "theory" will usually resolve doubts. I have argued all along that I am only asking for small changes here. Lack of clarity tends towards lack of neutrality.--FimusTauri (talk) 16:20, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
I think a reference to the relevent dictionary definition(s) should clarify this point - umm, I don't follow you here? You may have all of this worked out on your end, but this needs to be clear to people reading it for the first time. My original question remains. The sentence should start: A term is inherently ambiguous if ..., followed by your recommendation and a justification for it.
With respect to your second reply, we can't hand wave and tell people to go find something elsewhere. A summary of the relevant points from WP:NPOV and a link back to WP:NPOV would be sufficient.
With respect to your third reply, either the text myths of Abrahamic religions gives context for the term myth or it doesn't. It shouldn't (can't!) depend on what the rest of the sentence says about a story. So either I don't understand what you're saying here, or it didn't make sense. Cheers, Ben (talk) 16:33, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
By a reference to the relevent dictionary definitions I meant definitions 3 & 4 provided in the article.
I am happy to point out the relevent NPOV and link accordingly (i.e. we seem to agree)
I think that what I was trying to say on the third point is that in that specific example {Noah's Ark) just "myths of Abrahamic religions" didnt quite give sufficient context. Because of the particular phrasing that we eventually found, the two-sentence structure provided the extra context required. This is a small (and in this context, insignificant) point. Essentially, I believe we have common ground that a little thought, and one or two extra words, can usually provide sufficient context to remove ambiguity.--FimusTauri (talk) 16:40, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
I should add that I suspect the devil is in the detail. I do not have time this evening to work on this, but if anyone wishes to make alterations in accordance with the above discussion then feel free.--FimusTauri (talk) 16:48, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
If this is to have any hope of gaining support, it will need to be clear and assertive. Pasting in a dictionary definition and following with vague discussion just will not do. I would scrap the copy-paste dictionary definition and instead work it into your proposal. You seem to mean in your first point 'avoid anything satisfying definition 3 and 4', so, be clear and state this. Moving beyond clarity, I don't think this is a good directive, but I'll think about that a little longer before outright opposing it.
With respect to "myths of Abrahamic religions" not giving sufficient context, can you explain why not? This is perhaps insignificant in the scheme of things, but examples are good to work through in trying to hammer out things like this. Cheers, Ben (talk) 16:58, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

Further constructive criticism[edit]

1. The title would end up having to use "words" (small w) - minor point, but seeing it capitalised bothers me since I'm so used to the MOS standard
2. has clear, mainstream references to the meaning of the word; usually two major meanings are recognised.
3. For background, maybe we could even explain the etymology according to etymonline: 1528, from L. ambiguus "having double meaning, shifting, changeable, doubtful," adj. derived from ambigere "to dispute about," lit. "to wander," from ambi- "about" + agere "drive, lead, act" (see act). Sir Thomas More (1528) seems to have first used it in Eng., but ambiguity (from L. ambiguitatem) is first recorded c.1400. Til Eulenspiegel (talk) 17:17, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

Well, this is now short and clear; insofar as it is not a dictionary definition, it is also misguided.

  1. Words which are inherently ambiguous (equivocal) should be avoided. However, there are many words which are ambiguous because they have more than one interpretation or definition.
  2. Words with multiple interpretations are generally used to express a point of view. Use of such words is governed by Wikipedia's policy on neutrality.

In short (1) we should avoid most of the Engliah language, and (2) we should assume most of the rest is POV. Let us take a word which genuinely has multiple meanings, like field; see field (disambiguation) and tell us that it is "generally used to express a point of view". Septentrionalis PMAnderson 18:56, 17 February 2009 (UTC)

The shorter the better... but Septentrionalis is right: almost any word in a dictionnary has different meanings or different ways of application. Context makes normally clear what's meant and an average WP editor can be supposed to be aware of that. If he/she isn't, another editor will come along and correct wording, be it for POV, be it for lack of style.
Clearly, the polemic will arise at "multiple definitions". I would suggest that normally, the original or scientific definition of the word would be the most acceptable for use without clarifying addenda and derived or figurative meanings should be clarified or even avoided. "The sun is a star" would not be controversial at all. "Bogart is a star" should be clarified by the word "Hollywood star" or changed into "an actor". --Ilyacadiz (talk) 20:09, 17 February 2009 (UTC)
Septentrionalis is still failing to see the point, while Ilyacadiz has highlighted it: "Context makes normally clear what's meant". The current wording of the proposal is subject to change and will certainly require modification if it is to be clear in what I believe it should say, so I would ask Septentrionalis to be constructive in helping us to reach that point. The suggestion that it means we avoid most of the English language is patent nonsense, even as it is currently worded.
If I can clarify what the objective is here, then maybe (assuming everyone agrees on the objective) we can work towards re-phrasing the proposal to achieve that objective:
  1. This proposal is about style; it is intended to guide editors in the use of words which may be ambiguous, either because they can have multiple interpretations or because they have multiple definitions.
  2. There is no intent to proscribe or limit the use of any words, except where those words are in violation of other policies. Rather, this proposal should actually allow any word, so long as its meaning is made clear.
  3. The vast majority of the time, the "natural" context makes most words clear. i.e. there need be no special effort made. The Bogart example above highlights this: the meaning of "star" in both cases is clear. (However, "Bogart is a star" may be seen as opinion and therefore this example falls into the realm of NPOV. Adding "Hollywood" doesn't clarify which definition is intended - that is already clear from the context)
  4. In the remaining instances a small change to the wording may be required to clarify which meaning or definition is intended. This is an "amplification" of the context and shouldn't require infoboxes, disclaimers or definitions.
  5. "Fuzzy" words and words whose meaning is subject to interpretation should be restricted to quotations.
I should perhaps also clarify the question of why I think this is all necessary. On a very general level, I do not see any harm in explicitly giving editors guidelines on the use of ambiguous words. More specifically, I believe a clear guidance will reduce the number of arguments. This is because adding context adds clarity. I do not want this to be about "myth", but it is the argument that many here have been having and the clearest example, so I will use it here. Please remember, though, that this applies to any word with multiple definitions (including "theory", for example):
When I entered the debate, one editor wanted to clarify "Bible and Quran" by including the word "myth". Other editors disliked this proposal. Ultimately, it turned out that the main objection was that the proposed wording said, in effect, that "Noah's Ark is a myth" and, more generally, that the Bible/Quran are myths. This was disliked by different editors for different reasons (and there is no need to re-hash those reasons here). However, if the current proposal had been in place, then the proposed change to the Noah's Ark lead would have been required to provide a little extra context. Whilst the proposing editor may believe that Noah's Ark is a myth, I certainly do not believe that he wanted to claim that the Bible and Quran are both myths. A little thought and a little extra context clarified this. The current wording has that extra context, albeit arrived at from a different direction. In the meantime, there have been heated debates and too much ill-feeling. Had context been provided from the start, the arguments would not have been prevented, but I believe that they would have been much shorter and related to very specific points (for those not involved in that debate, the recent discussion and the archives extend over thousands of words and over three years.) Furthermore, if this policy is adopted, I believe it will lessen the chances of a future editor coming along and re-opening the whole debate.
I will try to clarify the point you ask, Ben, although I thought this had been covered in the discussions that led to the current wording. "myths of Abrahamic religions" provides part of the context, but without the two-sentence structure we currently have, the implication would be that the Bible/Quran are also included in that phrase. By dividing the sentence, we removed the works as a whole from being "myths" and restricted that application to the specific story. In that sense, some of the necessary context lies outside that phrase.
Til, I am not actually sure that a dictionary definition is required, especially as there is a WP article (Ambiguity) that can explain in detail. A summary of how 'ambiguous' applies in the context of this article would seem more appropriate to me. This would also make it simpler to resolve Ben's concerns on this point.--FimusTauri (talk) 09:58, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
I have re-worked the proposal to reflect some of the concerns outlined above. I have not yet changed the last paragraph, as that seems to be the most contentious. Further changes may be necessary and all comments still welcome.--FimusTauri (talk) 13:51, 18 February 2009 (UTC)
Since this proposal is intended to become part of the Manual of Style, I have changed it from a proposal of policy to a proposal of guideline, since the MoS is a guideline in itself.--FimusTauri (talk) 14:49, 18 February 2009 (UTC)

Close pending discussion?[edit]

Whilst I firmly believe that some sort of guideline on the use of ambiguous words is necessary (at the very least, desirable), I plan to close the current discussion on three grounds:

  1. Some editors have clearly misunderstood my intentions here and this is clouding the debate.
  2. The discussion appears to have stalled anyway.
  3. It seems I made a bit of a mess of the proposal in the first place. Not realising that MoS is a guideline has led to errors: this should have been a proposal of a guideline, not policy; it should have been tagged RFCstyle not RFCpolicy. Mea culpa.

I'll not change anything til Monday, so if anyone has anything further to say/useful suggestions they will have time. I plan to return to this in the near future, so ask that the page not be deleted in the meantime.--FimusTauri (talk) 10:25, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

Ambiguous constructions (rather than words)[edit]

I've added a comment on an ambiguous construction:

In some cases wording can be ambiguous although the words are not. For example, it is common to explain an unfamiliar term by using "or" and a familiar synonym in parentheses: "the orca (or killer whale) ...". To someone unfamiliar with the subject this can be ambiguous, suggesting an alternative; compare the valid sentences "A seal pup can be eaten by an orca (or killer whale)." and "A seal pup can be eaten by an orca (or polar bear)." A clearer alternative is to omit "or": "A seal pup can be eaten by an orca (killer whale)."

It might be useful to add a section on the various possible ambiguous constructions in general; it's certainly relevant to ambiguous wording, although not strictly to ambiguous words as such. Pol098 (talk) 11:53, 15 April 2011 (UTC)