Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE WORD GENIUS website introduced me to a new word, amphibology, the meaning of which has given me much linguistic pleasure. “Amphibology” describes a phrase or sentence that is grammatically ambiguous. Indeed, the word arises from the Late Latin amphibologia, meaning “capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways.”

There’s good fun in amphibology. Here’s a list compiled from various sources.

She Sees More of Her Children than Her Husband. Notice, inserting “of” before “her husband” would clarify the likely intended meaning. Or placing the word “does” after “her husband” is another option. On the other hand….

Matrimonial Amphibologics. Which reminds me of the radio Bickersons, an invariably squabbling couple portrayed by Don Ameche and Francis Langford. 

Don Ameche and Frances Langford as John and Blanche Bickerson. Image from Wikipedia.

John Bickerson recalls, “When I said, ‘I do,’ you said, ‘No, you don’t!’ ” And later he clarifies, “Matrimony isn’t a word, it’s a sentence.” 

Last Night I was Surprised by a Guest in My Bathrobe. Which reminds me of the parallel quip of Captain Spaulding (Groucho Marx) in Animal Crackers: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.”

Eats, Shoots & Leaves. This one conjures up a wonderful description of Ailuropoda melanoleuca, the giant panda. 

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss, Avery Publication Group, 2006.

It’s a Neighborhood Known to Obama, Trump and Prostitutes. Here’s another example in which an Oxford comma resolves the amphibology. In general, the second comma in “A, B, and C” makes it clear that B and C have no enhanced relationship compared to A.

British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands. Another amusing image, though this headline actually described Parliament’s Labour contingent being unsure of U.K. involvement in a South American territorial dispute. 

French Push Bottles Up German Rear. This one, cited in Wikipedia,  was a World War I headline. 

Your Son Hanged for Juvenile Crimes. Supposedly, the correct translation of this communication was “Your son suspended for minor offenses.” 

You Are All Most Welcome. This is a purely auditory amphibology, which really occurred at a pal’s wedding. The priest first welcomed his parishioners, then “other Catholics,” and finally “the rest of you are all most welcome.” Our assemblage of editors poked each other and smiled. 

Nothing is Good Enough for You. This one comes from Merriam-Webster, which notes that Latin amphibolos comes from amphi- (‘both’) and ballein (‘to throw’), literally… ‘hitting at both ends.’ ”

I Don’t Deserve You. Wife Dottie and I would occasionally utter this, warmly. The “warmly” did the trick. 

Maybe you have some favorite amphibologics? ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023 


  1. Rick Aurora
    April 20, 2023

    snort and another snort

  2. William Rabel
    May 1, 2023

    As a dear old friend used to say, “On the other hand, she had warts”.

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