Printable Version
Pronunciation: dis-æm-big-yu-ayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To make clear, to clear up by removing ambiguities.

Notes: Will Strockbine, who suggested today's Good Word, seems to have found a genuine orphan negative: we have disambiguate, but ambiguate doesn't appear in any English dictionary. We have discussed several false orphan negatives like uncouth and immaculate, but disambiguate seems to be a genuine orphan. The situation is temporary, though, since ambiguate is already creeping into the Web. The noun is disambiguation, and disambiguative is the most likely candidate for an adjective derived from this verb.

In Play: Whenever a sentence or phrase has two or more potential meanings, it needs disambiguation: "Could you help me disambiguate the part about my being 'surplused'?" The need arises in a wide variety of situations: "When William Arami asked for my hand, I had to ask him to disambiguate his request—did he want to hold it or marry me?"

Word History: Today's Good Word is a verb derived from the adjective ambiguous. This adjective is an English makeover of Latin ambiguus "off-track, uncertain", which comes from ambigere "to wander about", made up of ambi- "around, on both sides" and agere "to drive". We see ambi again in ambidextrous, roughly, "right-handed on both sides". The Greek version, amphi, turns up in amphitheater, which English borrowed from Greek. In the Germanic languages, the original Proto-Indo-European root became German um "about, around" and English by. (We now unambiguously thank Will Strockbine for suggesting that we look into this very Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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