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Thomas Jefferson and Amphibolies

picture of amphiboly sign

Some things do not seem to go together. Or if they are put together, the result is humorous, as in the case of the signs on the right. With the beginning of the 112th Congress, there is much anticipation of what our Congress critters will try to accomplish. As I contemplated what to post today and found a list of quotations of Thomas Jefferson in my files, I wondered what he would think of what our nation has become and is becoming. As I looked at the wisdom of Jefferson and knowing his close ties to the other founding fathers of our nation, I did a little looking around online and found a final quotation that was quite interesting. On to the quotations....

John Kennedy said in his address at a dinner for Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere on April 29, 1962, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

The quotations of Thomas Jefferson below could prove his point.

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned — this is the sum of good government."

"When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe."

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world."

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms."

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

In light of the present financial difficulties, it's interesting to read what Thomas Jefferson said in 1802, "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

I found the following quotation from Jefferson interesting because, just this week, I received from a reader a list of amphibolies. This quotation from Jefferson will serve to tie my two trains of thought together, without a crash, I hope:

In reference to his philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams stating:

"We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led...."

Amphibolies are syntactically ambiguous, meaning you can read them in more than one way. They occur in all kinds of places. Here are some from every day conversations:

Young men and women. (Are the women young?)

Last night I caught a prowler in my pyjamas. (Which of us was in my pj's?)

Teenagers shouldn't be allowed to drive. It's getting too dangerous on the streets.

No food is better than our food.

(Professor to student, on receiving a fifty-page term paper): "I shall waste no time reading it."

Eat our curry. You won't get better!

Some people seem to have to specialize in amphibolies when they write recommendations [1].

I am pleased to say that this candidate is a former colleague of mine.

He's an unbelievable worker.

All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend her too highly.

Church bulletin bloopers [2] often result from amphibologies:

Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

Don't let worry kill you — let the church help.

A new loudspeaker system has been installed in the church. It was given by one of our members in honor of his wife.

Classified ads [3] are a great source of amphibologies:

Used cars for sale: Why go elsewhere and be cheated? Come here first!

FOR SALE: Car driven by elderly lady with new body and spare tire.

DOG FOR SALE. Eats anything. Especially fond of children.

And then, of course, there are headlines [4]:

Farmer Bill Dies in House

Man captured by police while running naked through the park

Volunteers Needed to Help Torture Survivors

College Students Turning to Vegetables

Miners refuse to work after death

Hospital sued by seven foot doctors


What are your thoughts on the Jefferson quotations? Thomas Jefferson seemed fairly unambiguous to me. Have you ever heard of the word amphiboly before?


"Trying to live the Christian life is useless. Christ lives it through us." - John Dodd

=^..^= =^..^=

Give me ambiguity or give me something else.