Ambiguity vs. Shift of Meaning

As part of our natural language, humans give multiple meanings to some words. A sprinter can “run” a race, just as a candidate can “run” for office. Being able to recognize double meanings of words will help you play Section B of Propaganda.

Ambiguity occurs if a speaker or advertisement uses a word or phrase that has a double (or possibly triple) meaning. For example:

“Zatarain’s. Hottest thing in the freezer aisle.”

“Hottest” can mean that this food product has the “highest temperature” of all the items in the freezer aisle or that is is the “most popular” item of them all. The company has intentionally left the meaning of “hottest” open to your interpretation.

Now, Shift of Meaning also involves a speaker using words or phrases with multiple meanings. The difference between Ambiguity and Shift of Meaning is that the speaker using Shift of Meaning has to say the words two or more times in their speech. The double meaning of the words only becomes apparent after the speaker “shifts” from one use of the word to another. Here’s a visual example of Shift of Meaning:

Sorry about the glare. It says, "Big Flavor! Easy Preparation! Big Easy Foods"

So, this ad has two occurrences of Shift of Meaning. First, “big” means “lots of” flavor and “easy” means “not difficult” to prepare. However, the name “Big Easy” refers to New Orleans which is a “large” city where the attitude is “relaxed and easy going”.

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