The Hot Cheesy Dip and Linguistically Ambiguous Foods

Introducing the next Cook the Story series:



Time for a Linguistics lesson! (Don’t worry. I’ll make it brief.)

Linguists get a bit excited when they’re around ambiguity. If you’ve ever taken a course in Linguistics, raise your hand if you’ve heard too much about the word “unlockable” or if you’ve drawn two sentence structure diagrams for “The boy saw the girl with the binoculars.”

What do I mean by ambiguity? Ask yourself whether the boy or the girl is holding a pair of binoculars. The sentence has two possible meanings. One meaning has the boy using a pair of binoculars to check out the gal next door. The other meaning has the boy glancing out his window and noticing that he has a peeping Jill for a neighbor.

Similarly, “unlockable” can mean “able to be unlocked” as in, “I have their house key and so their door is unlock-able. Let’s break in and steal their binoculars.” Or, “not able to be locked” as in “Hey, doesn’t anyone have a key for this door? I guess we can’t lock it behind us. It’s un-lockable. Hope nobody comes in and steals our binoculars while we’re gone.”

The peeping Tom/Jill type of ambiguity is called syntactic ambiguity (syntax = the structure of phrases and sentences). The different meanings come from the different possible relationships between the words in the sentence (is “with the binoculars” related to “the boy” or to “the girl”?). The binocular-stealing type is morphological ambiguity (morphology = the structure of words). The different meanings stem from the different ways that the bits within the word can be related to one another (is “un-” negating “lockable” or is it only negating “lock”?).



Lexical ambiguity is a third type of ambiguity. An example is found in the sub-title The Hot Cheesy Dip found in my Food 52 Fondue Contest entry. What are the different meanings of this sub-title? What causes this ambiguity? Does the ambiguity mislead readers? Why or why not?


End of lesson. Phew!

Now let’s leave behind the linguistics porn and go back to the food porn. Here are some extra pics of my Food 52 contest entry for Artichoke Leaves and Cumin Sour Grape Dippers with Pepper Jack Fondue. Head over there and let me (and others) know what you think. Thanks!

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Check out the other posts from the series Linguistically Ambiguous Food:

Find out about past, present and future themes on Cook the Story here.


  1. Unambiguously Baked Baked Potato Soup « Cook the Story
  2. Candied Ginger Pudding on Food 52 « Cook the Story
  3. Hot Chocolate Cake: All Meanings Realized « Cook the Story
  4. Unambiguously Baked Baked Potato Soup « Cook the Story

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