Textual Ambiguity

Ambiguity is a word, phrase, or statement that contains more than one meaning. Ambiguous words or statements lead to vagueness and confusion, and shape the basis for instances of unintentional humor.

We couldn’t resist the opportunity to share this cartoon and theme from Time Magazine (October 20, 2017, ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands). It graphically demonstrates the challenge that writers have in clearly sharing messages.

If you don’t get it at first glance, here’s a possible interpretation. “x” and “L”, two characters, are walking toward two other characters, “I” and “o”, who are standing in the middle of the road.

Not being familiar with these two characters, ‘I’ first thinks that they might be Latin, in which case they’d be consonants in the Latin language (‘ex’ and ‘el’). On the other hand, ‘I’ wonders if they might be Roman, in which case they’d be the Roman numeral 40.

‘o’ responds that they might be from the Garment District.  From o’s perspective, they must be the size, “extra large”.

This wonderful graphic reminds those of us who write that it’s really important to write clearly from the get-go. But it’s equally important to read your work carefully several times in order to avoid textual ambiguity. It may be even more valuable to have someone else, preferably a professional editor, read your work, not just for grammar, punctuation, and the like, but to be sure that the message you want to convey is done so clearly.

It may be even more valuable to have someone else, preferably a professional editor, read your work, not just for grammar, punctuation, and the like, but to be sure that the message you want to convey is done so clearly.

As a writer, you’re so close to your work and know it so well that sometimes you may not share enough of the details to have your ideas easily understood by your reader.

We’d love to hear from you about sentences you wrote that you later realized didn’t really convey your message (and maybe even brought a laugh or two that you weren’t expecting).

Copyright © 2017 by Affordable Editing Services.

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