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Chapter 5: What Words or Phrases are Ambiguous?

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Elizabeth Hasenfratz

on 30 October 2015

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Transcript of Chapter 5: What Words or Phrases are Ambiguous?

Chapter 5: What Words or Phrases are Ambiguous?
From Asking The Right Questions by Dr. Browne & Dr. Stuart Keeley
Once you have identified the specifics of someone's argument the next step is to check that the key words mean what you believe them to be.
Bats should be destroyed!
Your reaction depends on which bat the author meant
A lot of words have multiple meanings
Human Rights
Don't assume the speaker/author thinks as you do; search for ambiguous words and phrases
Wait! First we should clarify what ambiguity means
Ambiguity refers to the existence of multiple meanings for a word or phrase
Where should you look for ambiguous key words?
The issue, reasons, and conclusion
Because one misunderstood word here can change everything
Example: Cut the breaks!
Break time?
Car brakes?
Once you have identified the key words, substitute in other possible meanings
Check dictionaries and brainstorm based on context for alternate interpretations
So how do you figure out the intended meaning?
3 Clues
- Writer/Speaker background
- Context Clues
- Usual meaning associated with the subject
Most helpful
Global Warming
Climate Change
Tax Relief
Tax Cut
Death Tax
Estate Tax
These word pairs have the same meaning, but different connotation. Beware these emotional ploys
Some words come pre-loaded with certain emotions and are thus called "loaded terms"
What have we learned?
- Identify ambiguous keywords
(in the issue, reasons, and conclusion)

- Try different meanings of key words
- Beware words with emotional signals
- Ask for clarification if possible
- If you are still unclear on a word, do not react. Inaction is better than misconstruing the writer/speaker's words
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