Printable Version
Pronunciation: æm-bay-jês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: (Language) Circuitous, rambling, garbled, misleading.

Notes: Today's lovely little gem of a word is the adjective for the noun ambage "twist, bend, circumlocution", as a road or speech full of ambages. This noun has brought forth a robust family of adjectives, brothers and sisters of today's word, including ambagical, ambaginous, and ambagitory, suggesting remarkable popularity at one time. Perhaps the time has come to rehabilitate it.

In Play: Even though the noun underlying today's adjective may also refer to paths and roads, this adjective is used only in describing speech: "Myna Bird gave such an ambagious speech at the conference that no one could think of a question to ask her when it concluded." Unlike ambiguous, which refers to vagueness and multiple interpretations, ambagious refers to twisting and winding in speech: "I think that anyone willing to navigate the ambagious language of the document could find a useful insight or two buried in it."

Word History: The noun underlying today's Good Word is a back-formation from Middle English ambages "equivocation", the feminine singular Latin ambages "evasion, digression". The Latin word came from the same source as ambiguus "ambiguous", a combination of the prefix ambi-, "both, about, around" + agere "to move, drive". Ambi- also appears in ambidextrous, originally "both-right-handed". The root of agere can be found in a plethora of words borrowed from Latin, including agent, act, and agile. (I hope this is an unambagious expression of unambiguous gratitude to the mysterious Grogie for suggesting today's Good Word in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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