Collection of Ambiguous or Inconsistent/Incomplete Statements

Compiled by Jeff Gray

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,
"it means just what I choose it to mean - nothing more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice,
"whether you can make words mean so many different things."

       Lewis Carroll


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the 500 words used most in the English language each have an average of 23 different meanings. The word "round," for instance, has 70 distinctly different meanings. The variance of word meanings in natural language has always posed problems for those who attempt to construct an unambiguous and consistent statement. It is often the case that a written statement could be interpreted in several ways by different individuals, thus rendering the statement subjective rather than objective. The first detailed examination of this problem with respect to the specifications of computer systems is contained in [Hill, 72]. Hill provides a plethora of examples to illustrate this common problem. Peter G. Neumann illustrated this point by constructing a sentence which contained the restrictive qualifier "only." He then showed that by placing the word "only" in 15 different places in the sentence resulted in over 20 different interpretations [Neumann, 84]. Moreover, other words like "never," "should," "nothing," and "usually" are sometimes applied in a manner in which a double meaning can be ascribed. In particular, the word "nothing" was a favorite word often used by Lewis Carroll.

Occasionally the ambiguity found in natural language may evoke images of the ridiculous while at other times it may be the source of humor. The examples presented here point to the potential confusion that can result when using natural language. That is, informal descriptions are subject to the vagaries and ambiguities of the natural language in which they are expressed. Those who formulated these statements did not fully consider the implications caused by the way in which the sentences were phrased. In a sense, they became victims of the Humpty-Dumpty Syndrome, a phenomenon where individuals fail to realize that words have many meanings and that others may not always be able to surmise the intent of a particular statement.

If simple statements like those given on this Web page are vulnerable to ambiguity, one can only imagine the potential problems that exist within a software requirements specification (SRS) written entirely in natural language. Such documents can easily be hundreds or thousands of pages in length. The possibility of ambiguities and inconsistent statements existing in such documents is very real.

The following represents a collection of ambiguous or inconsistent statements that I have found from various places. While most of them provide a source of amusement, my overall goal is to show that the cavalier use of natural language can often lead to unintended meanings.

I plan to add new content to this list periodically. If you have any additions or suggestions, please contact me at:

gray (at)


English is a Silly Language!
English Homonyms
Missing Words
Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations
Poorly Worded Ads
Instruction Labels
Fuzzy Requirements
Ambiguous Newspaper Headlines
Church Bulletins
Insurance Forms
On The Importance of Correct Punctuation
Double Negatives
Homonyms: Spell Checker
"Too" / "Nothing" / "More"
Naur Text Processing Problem
Why Ask Why?
Contradicting Proverbs
Abort, Retry, Fail?
Related Resources

English is a Silly Language!

Part 1:

Lets face it, English is a stupid language.
There is no egg in the eggplant.
No ham in the hamburger.
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple. 
English muffins were not invented in England. 
French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted.
But if we examine its paradoxes-- 
We find that Quicksand takes you down slowly. 
Boxing rings are square.
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don't fing. 
If the plural of tooth is teeth, 
shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth? 
If the teacher taught, 
Why didn't the preacher praught.

If a vegetarian eats vegetables
What does a humanitarian eat!?
Why do people recite at a play
Yet play at a recital?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as 
It burns down
And you fill in a form
By filling it out
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers 
And it reflects the creativity of the human race 
(Which of course isn't a race at all)

That is why:
When the stars are out they are visible
But when the lights are out they are invisible 
And why it is that when I wind up my watch 
it starts but when I wind up this poem
it ends?

English Homonyms

  • We must polish the Polish furniture.
  • He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
  • The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
  • This was a good time to present the present.
  • A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  • When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  • I did not object to the object.
  • The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  • They were too close to the door to close it.
  • The buck does funny things when the does are present.
  • They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
  • To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  • The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  • After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  • Upon seeing the tear in my clothes I shed a tear.
  • I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  • How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

    Missing Words

    The omission of a key word from a statement can drastically change the intended meaning, as evidenced by the following examples:

  • I saw this at a department store in my hometown recently:

    "We now have dress shirts on sale for men with 16 necks"

    Hopefully, the omission of "-inch" was not intentional!

  • Adultery Considered OK?

    In 1623, Baker and Lukas published a Bible in England since called "The Wicked Bible," because the little word "NOT" was omitted in the seventh commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery." The printers were heavily fined by the high commission and the whole edition destroyed.

    Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations

    Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous Recommendations
        (Ways to handle those tricky situations! )
    You're called upon for an opinion of a friend who is extremely
    lazy. You don't want to lie --- but you also don't want to risk losing
    even a lazy friend.
    Try this line: "In my opinion," you say as sincerely as you can
    manage, "you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for
    This gem of double meaning is the creation of Robert Thornton, a
    professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
    Thornton was frustrated about an occupational hazard for teachers,
    having to write letters of recommendation for people with dubious
    qualifications, so he put together an arsenal of statements that can
    be read two ways.
    He calls his collection the Lexicon of Inconspicuously Ambiguous
    Recommendations. Or LIAR, for short.
    LIAR may be used to offer a negative opinion of the personal
    qualities, work habits or motivation of the candidate while allowing
    the candidate to believe that it is high praise, Thornton explained
    last week.
                              Some examples from LIAR
    To describe a person who is totally inept: I most enthusiastically
    recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.
    To describe an ex-employee who had problems getting along with fellow
    workers: I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague
    of mine.
    To describe a candidate who is so unproductive that the job would be
    better left unfilled: I can assure you that no person would be better
    for the job.
    To describe a job applicant who is not worth further consideration: I
    would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of
    To describe a person with lackluster credentials: All in all, I cannot
    say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too
    Thornton pointed out that LIAR is not only useful in preserving
    friendships, but it also can help avoid serious legal trouble in a
    time when laws have eroded the confidentiality of letters of
    In most states, he noted, job applicants have the right to read the
    letters of recommendations and can even file suit against the writer
    if the contents are negative.
    When the writer uses LIAR, however, whether perceived correctly or not
    by the candidate, the phrases are virtually litigation-proof, Thornton


  • The following was sent to me by Steve Schach, after he noticed that the wording
    in this Call for Papers might prompt many on the SEWORLD mailing list to be more


    Date: Mon, 19 May 2003 12:08:19 -0600 (MDT)


    Please apologize if you receive multiple copies of this message.


  • R. D. Jones And His Sewing Machine
    The following is an ad from a real-life newspaper which appeared
    four days in a row - the last three hopelessly trying to correct
    the first day's mistake.
    For sale: R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Phone
    948-0707 after 7 P.M.. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him
    Notice: We regret having erred In R. D. Jones' ad yesterday. It
    should have read "One sewing machine for sale cheap. Phone
    948-0707 and ask for Mrs. Kelly, who lives with him after 7 P.M."
    Notice: R. D. Jones has informed us that he has received several
    annoying telephone calls because of the error we made in the
    classified ad yesterday. The ad stands correct as follows: "For
    sale -- R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone
    948-0707 after 7 P.M. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who loves with him."
    Notice: I, R. D. Jones, have no sewing machine for sale. I 
    intentionally broke it. Don't call 948-0707 as I have had the
    phone disconnected. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Kelly.
    Until yesterday she was my housekeeper, but she has now quit.

  • "I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajams I'll never know" Groucho

  • Often, you may see a sign like the following at a mall:

    Entire store 25% off

    Do I need to buy the whole store, or can I just pick out a few items of interest?

  • "The word 'good' has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man." (G.K. Chesterton)

  • Joe was in court fighting a ticket for parking his car in a restricted area. The judge asked him if he had anything to say in his defense. "They should not put up such misleading notices", said Joe. "It said, FINE FOR PARKING HERE."

  • What did Woodsy the Owl mean when he said:

    "I found a smouldering cigarette left by a horse."

  • "This is the worst disaster in California since I was elected." --California Governor Pat Brown, discussing a local flood

  • The word "hit" can also have several very different meanings - during the final game of the 1997 National League Championship Series in baseball, Bob Costas mentioned that NBC has a special Web page where you can "HIT ON a computer." Costas meant that the techniques for hitting a baseball could be explored from their web page. Co-announcer, Bob Eucker (sic?), however, voiced his displeasure of computing by saying that he "hits on" (or bangs) his computer everyday. A further meaning could be ascribed to this quote by someone who has a sexual attraction to computers...

  • A friend (Jonathan Sprinkle) pointed out to me that his phone bill always says, "Please make check payable to BellSouth in U.S. Funds" so he always writes his checks out to:

    "BellSouth in U.S. Funds"

  • A friend of mine said this to me the other day. His statement illutrates the potential problem of using "it":

    I will bring my bike tomorrow if it looks nice in the morning.

  • Check out the following headline from Reuters:

    Philip Morris' Bible gets $12.8 mln in 1999
    WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - Geoffrey Bible, chairman and chief executive of the world's largest tobacco company Philip Morris Cos. Inc.

  • Customer support people may get a good laugh when they are asked for help concerning the following message:

    "Please press ANY key to continue..."

    Most keyboards do not have a special "ANY" key.

  • A similar situation is described in the following:

    Tech Support: "What does the screen say now?"
    Person: "It says, 'Hit ENTER when ready'."
    Tech Support: "Well?"
    Person: "How do I know when it's ready?

  • In Computer Standards and Interfaces, September 1995, Haim Kilov offers the following in his guest editorial:

    "Lets look at a naming example attributed by Washington Technology to James Schlesinger (a Senior DoD executive); remarks are paraphrased to some degree:

    "...when the Marines are 'ordered' to 'secure a building,' they form a landing party and assualt it. The same instructions will lead the Army to occupy the building with a troop of infantry, and the Navy will characteristically respond by sending a yeoman to assure that the building lights are turned out. When the Air Force acts on these instructions, what results is a 'three years lease with an option to purchase'."

  • Politicians are certainly not exempt from inconsistencies:

    "When two trains approach each other at a crossing, both shall come to a full stop and neither shall
    start up again until the other has gone." Kansas State Legislature, early 1890's

  • A statement that I often see at restaurants:

    "Please wait for hostess to be seated"
  • Misc. Ambiguous Sentences


    One can often find inconsistent or ambiguous statements on roadside signs. Obviously, this is due to the fact that the luxury of being verbose is not available due to a limited amount of space. Some of the following have been forwarded to me or personally witnessed.

  • I recently saw this on a sign at a burger restaurant in Nashville:

    We don't just serve hamburgers, we serve people.

  • One might find the following sign in a residential neighborhood:

    "Slow children at play."

  • While driving toward Murfreesboro from Nashville, I witnessed the following statement on a billboard on I-24. The omission of the conjunction "and" can sure change the intended meaning. I wonder if this store freeze-dries their souvenirs to prevent melting?

    "Ice Cream Souvenirs"

  • The following joke is circulating the Internet:
    The other day a friend of mine got into some trouble
    with the authorities.
    It seems he'd parked his car in a restricted area.
    But he saw a cop putting a ticket on it, and complained
    so vociferously that he got hauled in front of the local law.
    It didn't get much better from there.
    He insisted on explaining things to the judge 
    at some length, I'm afraid.
    And what did he say? Well, over and over again, he just
    kept repeating, "But the sign clearly said: Fine for
    parking here!'"

  • At the Franklin Lanes bowling alley, in Franklin, TN, I saw the following sign and several ideas came to mind:

    "Vending Restrooms"

  • From Muscle Media 2K, on page 51, strength coach Charles Poliquin writes:

    "A former Ms. Olympia competitor comes to mind: she is the type who would walk into a shopping center, see a sign which read "Wet Floor," and do it!"

    What do they mean!?

    Actual signs posted in foreign countries as reported by American tourists...

    The following are actual signs seen across the good ol' U.S.A.

    Poorly Worded Ads

    Instruction Labels

    These are actual instruction labels on consumer goods. (Parenthetical commentary has been added...):
  • On Sears hairdryer: Do not use while sleeping. (Gee, that's the only time I have to work on my hair!)
  • On a bag of Fritos: You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside. (The shoplifter special!)
  • On a bar of Dial soap: Directions: Use like regular soap. (and that would be how?)
  • On some Swann frozen dinners: Serving suggestion: Defrost. (But it's 'just' a suggestion!)
  • On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert: (printed on bottom of the box) Do not turn upside down. (Too late! you lose!)
  • On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding: Product will be hot after heating. (Are you sure? Let's experiment.)
  • On packaging for a Rowenta iron: Do not iron clothes on body. (But wouldn't that save more time?) (Whose body?)
  • On Boot's Children's cough medicine: Do not drive car or operate machinery. (We could do a lot to reduce the construction accidents if we just kept those 5 year olds off those fork lifts.)
  • On Nytol sleep aid: Warning: may cause drowsiness. (One would hope!)
  • On a Korean kitchen knife: Warning: keep out of children. (hmm...something must have gotten lost in the translation...)
  • On a string of Christmas lights: For indoor or outdoor use only. (As opposed to use in outer space.)
  • On a food processor: Not to be used for the other use. (Now I'm curious.)
  • On Sainsbury's peanuts: Warning: contains nuts. (but no peas?)
  • On an American Airlines packet of nuts: Instructions: open packet, eat nuts. (somebody got paid big bucks to write this one...)
  • On a Swedish chainsaw: Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands. (Raise your hand if you've tried this...)
  • On a child's Superman costume: Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly. (Oh go ahead! That's right, destroy a universal childhood belief.)

    Fuzzy Requirements

  • From a British Airways Memorandum, quoted in Pilot Magazine, December 1996: The Landing Pilot is the Non-Handling Pilot until the decision altitude call, when the Handling Non-Landing Pilot hands the handling to the Non-Handling Landing Pilot, unless the latter "calls go around," in which case the Handling Non-Landing Pilot continues handling and the Non-Handling Landing Pilot continues non-handling until the next call of "land" or "go around" as appropriate. In view of recent confusions over these rules, it was deemed necessary to restate them clearly.
  • The following is included in the book Software Testing Management Life on the Critical Path by Thomas C. Royer. 6.2 A CHECKLIST FOR FUZZY REQUIREMENTS 1988, the MITRE Corporation of Bedford, Massachusetts, prepared a for the U.S. Air Force which included a list of keywords and forms of when preparing or reviewing a specification [Buley, Moore, et al. 1988]. The authors suggest being on the look out for 1. Incomplete lists ending with "etc.," "and/or," and "TBD." 2. Vague words and phrases such as "generally," "normally," "to the greatest extent," and "where practicable." 3. Imprecise verbs such as "supported," "handled," "processed," or "rejected." 4. Implied certainty, flagged by words such as "always," "never," "all," or "every." 5. Passive voice, such as "the counter is set." (By whom or what?) 6. Every pronoun, particularly "it" or "its." Each should have an explicit and unmistakable reference. 7. Comparatives, such as "earliest," "latest," "highest." Words ending in "or" or "est" should be suspect. 8. Words and phrases that cannot be quantified, such as flexible, modular, achievable, efficient, adequate, accomplish, possible (or possibly), correct (or correctly), minimum required, minimum acceptable, better, higher, faster, less, slower, infrequent, to the extent specified, to the extent required, 10 be compatible, to be associated with. 9 Words and phrases whose meaning can be disputed between developer and customer, such as instantaneous, simultaneous, achievable, com- plots, finish, degraded, a minimum number of, nominal/normal/aver- age, minimum, steady-state, coincident, adjacent, synchronous. 10. Contractually troublesome phrases: a. "Design goal." The developer will spend money and other resources with no guarantee of goal accomplishment. b. "To the extent practicable." A decision in the eyes of the developer. c. "Where applicable." There are no criteria for judgment. d. "Shall be considered." The developer will think about. e. "A minimum of X." The developer will provide exactly X. Most of the difficulty with the fuzzy requirements addressed in this chapter, and with the words and phrases flagged by the MITRE report, arise from the imprecision of the English language as written by most people. Substitutes for prose requirements should be used at every opportunity.(3) To clarify requirements, the specification author should use any of the following: 1. Equations and logical relations to express constraints and computational requirements. (3) Note the way these imprecise phrases, such as "every opportunity," creep into discussions. "The system shall do A. After completing A, the system shall do B. After completing B, the system shall do C. After completing C, the system shall do D. Upon completing D, the system shall do E." If the sequential relationship between tasks A, B, C, D, and E is other than linear, then use a logic diagram: "The system shall perform tasks A, B, C, D, and E as shown in Figure X." 6.4 A WORD ABOUT "TBD" Finally, a word about the often abused phrase "To Be Determined" or "'TBD." TBD is used as a placeholder for requirements that haven't been finalized. TBDs are meant to be conspicuous and easy to spot. They're a message to readers that" there's something missing, but we haven't forgotten it." When used that way, TBDs serve a very useful purpose. Specification reviewers who categorically reject specifications containing TBDS are sim- ply inviting developers to submit specifications with much more subtle TBDs, like the BIT requirement described earlier. REFERENCES BULEY, E.R., MOORE, L.J., and OWESS, M.F., 1988. "B5 (SRS/IRS) Specification Guidelines," M88-57, ESD-TR-88-337. MITRE, Bedford, MA, December.

  • Oxymorons

    Ambiguous Newspaper Headlines

  • The Cuisine of India is a restaurant that I eat at frequently
    for lunch (they are in the same building as the computer science
    I was surprised to be watching Jay Leno one evening when he
    did his Monday night "Headlines" feature and mentioned this
    restaurant. In the Tennessean, they had placed an ad that
      "Cuisine of India: Nashville's Finest Italian Restaurant"
    Next time I go there I will ask for some tortellini...

  • Following the tragic JFK Jr. accident, Reuters reported:
        Thursday July 22 9:22 AM ET (Reuters)
        "Kennedys Board Cutter On Way To Sea Burial"
    The story was corrected so that a "kitchen board cutter"
    could not be inferred:
        Thursday July 22 10:15 AM ET (Reuters)
        Kennedys Board Ship To Scatter JFK Jr.'s Ashes
  •  Here are some sentences from actual newspaper articles:
       o  Great care must be exercised in tying horses to trees, as
    they are apt to bark.
       o  We do not tear your clothing with machinery; we do it
    carefully by hand.
       o  After Governor Baldridge watched the lion perform, he was
    taken to Main Street and fed twenty-five pounds of red meat in front of
    the Fox Theater.
       o  Dr. Benjamin Porter visited the school yesterday and lectured on
    "Destructive Pests". A large number were  present.
       o  The Duchess handled the launching beautifully, confidently
    smashing the champagne against the prow.  The crowd cheered as she
    majestically slid down the greasy runway into the sea. 
       o  Anti-nuclear protestors released live cockroaches inside the
    White House Friday, and these were arrested when they left and blocked a
    security gate.
  • WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nude dancing took center stage on Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
  • March planned for Next August
  • Lingerie Shipment Hijacked--Thief Gives Police the Slip
  • L.A. Voters Approve Urban Renewal by Landslide
  • Quarter of a Million Chinese Live on Water
  • Hershey Bars Protest
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
  • Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
  • Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
  • Farmer Bill Dies in House
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
  • Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
  • Stud Tires Out
  • Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
  • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
  • Soviet Virgin Lands Short of Goal Again
  • British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
  • Lung Cancer in Women Mushrooms
  • Eye Drops off Shelf
  • Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
  • Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
  • Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
  • Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66
  • Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Ax
  • Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
  • Stolen Painting Found by Tree
  • Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies
  • Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
  • Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years
  • Never Withhold Herpes Infection from Loved One
  • Drunken Drivers Paid $1000 in '84
  • War Dims Hope for Peace
  • If Strike isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While
  • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
  • Enfields Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
  • Red Tape Holds up New Bridge
  • Deer Kill 17,000
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
  • Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
  • Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy
  • Arson Suspect is Held in Massachusetts Fire
  • British Union Finds Dwarves in Short Supply
  • Ban On Soliciting Dead in Trotwood
  • Lansing Residents Can Drop Off Trees
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
  • New Vaccine May Contain Rabies
  • Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing
  • Air Head Fired
  • Steals Clock, Faces Time
  • Prosecutor Releases Probe into Undersheriff
  • Old School Pillars are Replaced by Alumni
  • Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
  • Some Pieces of Rock Hudson Sold at Auction
  • Include your Children when Baking Cookies

    Church Bulletins

    Insurance Forms

    On The Importance of Correct Punctuation

    Double Negative

    A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. "In English," he said, "A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative." A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

    Homonyms: Spell Checker

    Spell Checker
    Eye halve a spelling chequer
    It came with my pea sea
    It plainly marques for my revue
    Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
    Eye strike a key and type a word
    And weight four it two say
    Weather eye am wrong oar write
    It shows me strait a weigh.
    As swoon as a mist ache is maid
    It nose bee fore two long
    And eye can put the error rite
    Its rare lea ever wrong.
    Eye have run this poem threw it
    I am shore your pleased two no
    Its letter perfect awl the weigh
    My chequer tolled me sew.

    "Too" / "Nothing" / "More"

    Naur Text Processing Problem


    Given a text consisting of words separated by BLANKS or NL (new-line) characters, convert it to a line-by-line form in accordance with the following rules: (1) line breaks must be made only where the given text has BLANK or NL (2) each line is filled as far as possible, as long as (3) no line will contain more than MAXPOS characters.


    The program's input is a stream of characters whose end is signaled with a special end-of-text character, ET. There is exactly one ET character in each input stream. Characters are classified as * break characters - BL (blank) and NL (new-line); * non-break characters - all others except ET; * the end-of-text character - ET. A word is a non-empty sequence of non-break characters. A break is a sequence of one or more break characters. Thus, the input can be viewed as a sequence of words separated by breaks, with possibly leading and trailing breaks, and ending with ET. The program's output should be the same sequence of words as in the input, with the exception that an oversize word (i.e., a word containing more than MAXPOS characters, where MAXPOS is a positive integer) should cause an error exit from the program (i.e., a variable, Alarm, should have the value TRUE). Up to the point of an error, the program's output should have the following properties: 1. A new-line should start only between words and at the beginning of the output text, if any. 2. A break in the input is reduced to a single break character in the output. 3. As many words as possible should be placed on each line (i.e., between successive NL characters). 4. No line may contain more than MAXPOS characters (words and BLs).

    Why Ask Why?

    The following are not exactly ambiguous statements, but they do represent some of the peculiarities of both American society and words in the English language.

    Contradicting Proverbs

    The following was sent to me as an email. Author unknown...

    As any experienced conversationalist can tell you, ambiguity is the key to winning any argument. Following are a few popular proverbs and counter-proverbs that will allow you to turn a conversation in any direction you want. Who can argue with the wit and wisdom of our fore fathers?

    Abort, Retry, Fail?

    Don Willmott's Abort, Retry, Fail? column in PC Magazine is often the source of some ambiguous statements found in headlines and advertisements. The following represents a collection of some of my favorites (started December 2, 1996).

    Related Resources



  • Logical Fallacies

  • Suggested Reading:

    Last modified November 20, 2003