Does ambiguity have a history? This amazing book, model of an erudition one might have thought no longer possible, with more than fourteen hundred footnotes and fifty pages of bibliography, addresses not ambiguity itself but “the ways it has been posited, denied, conceptualized and argued over since Aristotle” (2). Its basic unit, Anthony Ossa-Richardson declares, is “the act of seeing ambiguity in a phrase” (19), but the focus is the conceptual frameworks that encourage or discourage such acts and make them significant.

This yields not a history of ambiguity per se but a series of histories, some quite fascinating, from various disciplinary domains or crossing such domains: rhetorical theory, legal hermeneutics, scriptural interpretation, philology, literary commentary, and sometimes philosophy. Ossa-Richardson has perused a vast array of textual commentaries, from classical times through the nineteenth century, as divines and scholars argued about texts,...

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