Despite it sounding a bit like polygamy, there is nothing naughty or illegal about it. Polysemy is derived from the Greek polusemos – having many meanings. Its opposite is monosemy – having one meaning / unambiguous. Writers practice polysemy every time they put pen to paper, without thinking about it. (See? How many meanings are there to the word pen? Or practice?)
The English language is awash with words that mean more than one thing. It’s one of its glories and, when trying to select words that will avoid all ambiguity, or expressly pinning them down to one meaning, the language can end up turgid and dull. Few people read a law report for fun.
If so inclined, you can have fun with polysemy at your reader’s expense: For example, if I offer you a ‘fulsome apology for any offence given.’ Am I truly sorry and offering a sincere apology? Am I being a little bit over the top because I can’t really see what you’ve got to be offended about? Or am I being offensively insincere? The word fulsome embraces all those meanings.
Ambiguity is usually easily avoided by the context in which a word is used.
Putting pen to paper. / Putting sheep in a pen.
The two of them were rowing [across the lake] [about the cost of hiring a boat]
And, despite the number of words with more than one meaning, we rarely are confused. What is ambiguous, for example, about wanting to get all your ducks in a row? (Oh, my fulsome apologies if that leaves you a bit puzzled).
If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon author pages. Where you can find stories, anthologies, or novels from £/$0.00 to £/$15.00
Stories from my collection, Cast Off, are being read at the Criterion Theatre, Coventry on Thursday 23rd November at 7.30pm. The event is FREE.
Cast Off: myBook.to/CastOff