I had to ask myself this question when an advert popped up at the side of my Facebook page. It was actually offering me a free shipping dress – wow, free clothes. I considered sending for half a dozen then putting them on EBay at £15 each. Could be the start of my new fashion empire.
But, no….there was a catch. Or rather, it was a very badly worded offer.
It seems there is no such thing as a shipping dress [even though there are cargo pants and boarding pants apparently]. So, the offer isn’t a free dress, but free postage and packing [I DO prefer the British terminology] on dresses which have to be paid for. There goes my business idea. Dragons’ Den must wait a while longer.
Ambiguity rears its head in all sorts of ways every day.
Verbally, it is easy to misunderstand words such as wax and whacks which are linguistically called homophones. Imagine you are reclining in a beauty salon, the owner tells the assistant you are ready for your wax…and they thump you as hard as they can several times! You would certainly have had some whacks then. Context can be everything in certain situations.
Ambiguity, though, is more a case of bad syntax. The advert ‘Nothing acts faster than Anadin’ – is it informing you that your headache will go faster if you take nothing, rather than buying their product?
A hasty search of Google brought up these two examples:-
Sarah gave a bath to her dog wearing a pink t-shirt. Who is wearing the t-shirt here?
You should bring wine or beer and dessert. If you don’t bring wine, do you have to bring beer AND a dessert, or do you have to bring dessert no matter which drink you also provide?
So, maybe I should demand my free shipping dress after all? If they can’t figure out how to word their offer, shouldn’t I take it at face value? Dragons’ Den…I’m on my way after all 🙂