stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sat Jan 24 18:01:11 UTC 2009

On Jan 23, 2009, at 7:32 AM, Dave Wilton wrote:

[Victor Steinbok:]

  >Referring to
someone as having been "killed" is ambiguous
   [AMZ: in the ordinary-language, non-technical sense of "ambiguous"]
as to whether the "killing"
has been performed by another person or by an inanimate object (e.g., a
falling rock, or something that is not even an object in a physical
sense, such as a poison or a "heart attack") or by an act ("killed by a
fall from the roof"--although coroner's reports would usually avoid such
terminology). But is this a structural ambiguity or merely a question of

[AMZ: surely a question of specificity, not of ambiguity (in the
technical sense)]

> ... Very, very few crimes are "ambiguous" in legal
> contexts. The crimes are all explicitly defined in excruciating
> detail by
> statute. There may be ambiguity in the popular usage of "murder,"
> but none
> at all in legal contexts. There are lots of ambiguous legal terms, but
> vanishingly few of them in the criminal code.

yet another sense of "ambiguous": 'incompletely specified, lacking a
definition supplying necessary and sufficient conditions'.  this picks
out a species of *vagueness*!

we've also wandered away from the original discussion, which was about
expressions in ordinary language.


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