Be an “Amibguity Sleuth”

Too many times, I’ve been reading an article by professionals, and suddenly come across a sentence or clause that takes a lot of effort to “decode.” This usually happens when when the reader’s mind mistakenly takes a literally- purposed phrase for a familiar idiom that might use the same combination of words. Or it can happen when the reverse appears as well: idiom-purposed for litterally-meant.

The best way to explain this is by example. Along with each example I’ll be making suggestions on how the ambiguity might be corrected — removing the “stumbling-block,” and thus improving the flow of the written work.

This one is from one of my own Tweets. It makes the reader have to decode whether I am using the word “values” as a noun or a verb:

“If they don’t attend it’s one more PROOF that GOP leadership values ideology over showing even an iota of respect for America’s institutions.”

The ambiguity arises from “GOP leadership values” When I re-read the tweet, I took “values” to be a a noun, as in GOP leadership-values. After I submbled, I remembered that I was saying that the leadership of the GOP values ideology over showing… I should have said that. Or maybe, better: the GOP’s leadership has come to value… either way would have avoided the ambiguity. Several of these in one piece of writing lowers the reader’s esteem for the writer.

I think you get the idea. As I run into more examples, I’ll update this article and put a notification on Twitter.


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