Internally ambiguous words?

A. Maberry maberry at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Wed Feb 9 20:37:31 UTC 2000

How about "amphibolous" terms?

maberry at

On Wed, 9 Feb 2000, David Bowie wrote:

> A student just asked me if there is a name for words that are internally
> structurally ambiguous, like 'unbuttonable', which can mean 'not able to be
> buttoned' or 'able to be unbuttoned', depending on whether it's analyzed as
> un+buttonable or unbutton+able. Anybody on this list know what the term
> might be, if one exists?
> (The reactions to the students in the class on the most natural meaning of
> the word was interesting, and made me wonder what might condition different
> readings of the same word in the same context. Yet *another* thing to put on
> my 'Things that would be cool to look into if i had time, but i don't' list.
> *sigh* )
> David Bowie                                       Department of English
> Assistant Professor                            Brigham Young University
> db.list at    
>    The opinions stated here are not necessarily those of my employer

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