One sentence, two meanings

| 6 Comments

About a month ago, John Maidment wrote about an ambiguous phrase: here

Now here is a proverb that has two meanings, and they are quite difficult to distinguish even by their intonation:

“No news is good news”. When this means that the absence of news constitutes good news, it may be “\No /news is \good _news.” To mean that whatever the news, it is bad, it may be “\No _news is ◟good ◞news.”

And another: “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good”. Is this a wind which causes harm to everybody, or does it mean that in most circumstances, no matter how “ill” the wind, some one will benefit from it? Only the intonation can tell us: “It’s an ˈill \wind, that blows \nobody any good.” (harms everybody) or “It’s an \ill wind that blows \nobody any ◞good.” (someone will benefit).

6 Comments

  1. Similarly, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

  2. Akito – In what way is this sentence ambiguous in its meaning?

  3. May I suggest:

    1. If there are too many cooks, the broth will be spoiled.

    2. More cooks soil the broth than is really necessary.

  4. ooops

    2 of course I meant spoil not soil.

  5. john maidment has already answered, but in my own words, a second reading is “there are too many cooks who spoil the broth.”

  6. Akito, John – I’m obviously being very stupid, because I didn’t see that at all! Doh!

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