Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.


Fruit flies enjoy bananas.

Our language is very versatile, very powerful, and often ambiguous.

The sentence “Time flies like an arrow” has no less than eleven interpretations, including:

  • (Measure the flight) time (of) flies like (you would) an arrow
  • (Measure the flight) time (of) flies like an arrow (would time flies)
  • Time (the progression of events) flies (passes) like an arrow (quickly)

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, lingual ambiguities are wonderful. Puns, humor, and wit are all founded in the malleability of language. Wordplay allows us to express ideas that have never before been thought. If we couldn’t twist words we’d still be grunting out the first utterances of our ancient ancestors. Malleable language is essential to communication. Evolving language is the foundation of civilization.

Conversation has many interpretations. Sentences with the same words can vary their meaning wildly when given different emphasis.

This is an important aspect of social communication, and it makes conveying simple thoughts difficult: it is very easy to lose something in translation.