Fallacy of amphiboly
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Logic and rhetoric
The fallacy of amphiboly occurs when a sentence, because of its grammar, structure, or punctuation, can be interpreted in multiple ways.
- "Last night I caught a prowler in my pyjamas."
- Did the speaker (1) find a prowler who was wearing their pyjamas, (2) find a prowler while the speaker was wearing their pyjamas, or (3) ensnare the prowler using their pyjamas as a net?
- "Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help."
- Does the Church help reduce worry, or kill people, or both?
- "I am opposed to taxes which slow economic growth."
- Is the speaker opposed to all taxes, because they slow economic growth, or just taxes that slow economic growth? (Though grammatically, as written it would indicate the latter, but if a comma were added after taxes, it would indicate the former.)
- The Oracle of Delphi told Croesus "that if he led an army against the Persians, he would destroy a great empire." The question, of course, is which empire – Croesus' or the Persians'. Croesus, failing to spot the Oracle's escape hatch, was soon empireless.
- I will make him a help meet for him."
- This quote from Genesis 2:18 originally meant that God would create a helper fit for man (i.e. woman), but through misinterpretation was hyphenated as a compound word in the 16th century. A "helpmeet" and later "helpmate" thereafter became a noun meaning "a special helper, spouse." In this case the amphiboly, originally nonsense, led to its own creation.
- Attacking Faulty Reasoning, T. Damer