Internally ambiguous words?

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Wed Feb 9 21:11:37 UTC 2000

Here's another example of the same class -- "unionized".  To a chemist,
that's clearly about ionization that hasn't happened or has been
reversed: un + ionized. To the AFL/CIO, it means another shop has
collective bargaining: union + ized.

Obviously, David Bowie chose exactly the right word when he says he
"wondered what might condition different READINGS of the same word in
the same context." (Emphasis mine.) There's no ambiguity in spoken
unionized  Unbuttoned, on the other hand . . .   Hmmm.  I, too, wish I
had time to check this one out.

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at>

Answering the following from David Bowie:

> 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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