Semantic Ambiguity and Meaning

      I trust that your day today on this Friday the 13th is going well and that tomorrow, a more promising day, will be enriched by love, both getting and giving. . . .

In today’s “blog” posting,  I thought it appropriate to deal with a topic the achievement of one kind of which is often met with groans or other expressions of dismay.

Since “semantic ambiguity” is often the consequence of an accidental use of the English language,  maybe groans are an appropriate response.  However,  there are many of us who relish such a happenstance and even perhaps go deliberately out of the way to create semantic ambiguity in the way of a “pun” or a play on words.

Here are a couple of results of accidental ambiguity, caused by users perhaps who were not as fully literate (in orthography or culture) as might be desired:

(1)  Seen over a number of years on a sign on a highway near Gaffney, SC,  advertising a roadside motel:  “Quite Comfortable Rooms.”  And so we either laugh with relief that it wasn’t our mistake after all,  or,  alternatively,  we might sneer a bit derisively because we weren’t the poor boob of a sign painter who committed this faux pas.  (Wouldn’t we rather sleep in really comfortable rooms, quiet ones even?)

(2)  In announcing upcoming auditions for a play by a famed Norwegian author,  a flyer was sent out a number of years ago urging aspiring actors to come at a specified time and place to try out for a role in

“A Doll’s House”
by Henry Gibson

This was a situation,  I suppose, where the ear was less reliable than the eye might have been.

When one puns,  of course, the motive of deliberate ambiguity is paramount.  We expect our listeners (puns usually don’t come off as well in print or written form) to understand and appreciate the display of a clever wit that the punner wishes to have recognized.   Here are a couple of my favorites that you probably already have heard:

(1)  The patient comes into the doctor’s examination to complain about some troubling dreams that keep him awake.   Doctor:  “It will help if you can describe these dreams.”   Patient:   “Well, last night I dreamt I was a tepee.  The night before I dreamt I was a wigwam.”   Doctor:  “You are too tense.”  (If you have to explain a pun,  it loses its impact.)

(2)  A three-legged dog comes into a saloon.  It acts up by barking at the patrons,  cornering timid ones, and threatening to bite.  The Sheriff is called.  He manages to corner the dog, and asks,  “What is the matter with you?  Why are you causing such a ruckus?”  Dog:  “I’m looking for the guy who shot my paw.”

‘Nuff said.  Comments and better stories welcome!  I will post another entry soon about some other interesting  situations where “semantic ambiguity” may affect the integrity of meaning and thus may call for redaction–or maybe even sedation.



20 Responses to “Semantic Ambiguity and Meaning”

  1. Marena Groll Says:

    I admit it. I had to sat too tense outloud.

  2. Marena Groll Says:

    lol. Say. I had to say.

  3. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    I don’t mean to be crass, but a glaring example of double entendre was painted on Hay St. right in front of city hall for people whose western culture taught them to read from left to right:


    This unfortunate display was fortunately quickly changed.

  4. Marena Groll Says:

    Yes. That could be problematic.

    Beat this Marshall. Energizer Bunny arrested. Charged with battery.

    There are two puns there. Raymond I should get extra credit for one of them.

  5. Marena Groll Says:

    Reading whilst sunbathing makes you well-red.

  6. Marena Groll Says:

    OK. I gave that one away.

  7. Marena Groll Says:

    One more. I can’t resist.

    The cow tried to jump the barbwire fence. It was an utter disaster.

  8. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Points of creditable are lost when puns get to be competitive and not in the spirit of humorous play. There is some punster in most folks that feedback to the feeder at the expense of the feed. If that don’t make sense it’s because I’m to tense.

    Dr. Rundus, I had a personally likeing to the quote from your section in the Sandpur ” I’ve lost a lot of things but I miss my mind the most “.
    That makes more sense everyday.

  9. Disgusted Says:

    A horse goes into a saloon and climbs up on a barstool. The bartender, reaching for a glass, looks at the horse and asks “Why the long face?”

  10. Forest Crump Says:

    A storage facility on 211 just outside of Aberdeen has a sign that reads, Alarmed Containers.

  11. Tammy Stephens Says:

    I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.

  12. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Marena: Sad to say but I didn’t get the 2nd Energizer Bunny pun. I must be slippin’.

  13. Tom Says:

    energizer – arrested (no more energy)
    Charged with battery (assault) (the energizer is a battery)

    Must have been a long night for you.

  14. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Tom: Thanks but that was the 1st pun. I got that one!!

    (It’s been a long year.)

  15. Forest Crump Says:

    I live next door to some nudists, I don’t mind, I bare with them.

  16. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Mr. Rundus,
    Are we meeting this Friday, or next? What time do you think?

  17. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Hey guys heard from Mr. Rundus, the breakfast will be 8:15 this coming Friday at Cedar Point in Spring Lake.

  18. Free Online Games Says:

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  19. Free Online Games Says:

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  20. Free Online Games Says:

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