Deliberate ambiguity in slogans: recognition and appreciation

L. Lagerwerf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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In slogans used in public information, politics, and advertising, and also in titles of books, documentaries, or articles, ambiguity is often employed to pique the interest of the reader in the message that is conveyed. According to several theories of text processing, this deliberate ambiguity may gain greater appreciation than slogans employing other rhetorical means. A special form of deliberate ambiguity is studied in this contribution: slogans that may be taken literally. The notion of salient meaning explains what happens when idiomatic meaning is reinterpreted into literal meaning, to fit the context. Instead of the esthetic experience often attributed to metaphorical expressions, this kind of ambiguity evokes humor. An experiment shows that deliberate ambiguity in slogans has a positive effect on appreciation. Recognition of the ambiguity is a strong factor in the appreciation of these slogans. Even nonambiguous slogans are appreciated more if they are recognized as ambiguous.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-260
Number of pages15
JournalDocument design
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • public information
  • Advertising
  • Humor
  • appreciation
  • Recognition
  • titles
  • deliberate ambiguity
  • slogans
  • headings
  • metaphor
  • rhetoric
  • METIS-208565
  • IR-74348

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