ambiguity  (am-bi-gyoo-<<schwa>>-tee),  n.  An  uncertainty  of  meaning  or  intention,  as  in a

contractual term or statutory provision. Cf. MEANING. [Cases: Contracts    143(2); Statutes    190.

C.J.S. Contracts §§ 303–305; Statutes § 321.] — ambiguous (am-big-yoo-<<schwa>>s), adj.

“In the context of statutory interpretation the word most frequently used to indicate the doubt

which a judge must entertain before he can search for and, if possible, apply a secondary meaning

is ‘ambiguity’.  In  ordinary  language  this term  is  often  confined  to  situations in  which  the  same

word is capable of meaning two different things, but, in relation to statutory interpretation, judicial

usage sanctions the application of the word ‘ambiguity’ to describe any kind of doubtful meaning

of words, phrases or longer statutory provisions. Hinchy’s case prompted the suggestion that if, in

a particular context, words convey to different judges a different range of meanings ‘derived from,

not  fanciful speculations  or  mistakes  about linguistic  usage,  but from  true  knowledge  about the

use of words, they are ambiguous.’ ” Rupert Cross, Statutory Interpretation 76–77 (1976).

ambiguity on the factum.An ambiguity relating to the foundation of an instrument, such as a

question relating to whether a testator intended for a particular clause to be part of an agreement,

whether  a  codicil  was  intended  to  republish  a  former  will,  or  whether  the  residuary  clause  was

accidentally omitted.

calculated ambiguity.A purposeful use of unclear language, usu. when two negotiating parties

cannot  agree  on  clear,  precise  language  and  therefore  leave  a  decision-maker  to  sort  out  the

meaning  in  case  of  a  dispute.  •  Strictly  speaking,  this  is  a  misnomer:  the  more  precise  term  is

vagueness, not ambiguity. See VAGUENESS(1).

extrinsic ambiguity.See latent ambiguity.

intrinsic ambiguity.See patent ambiguity.

latent ambiguity.An  ambiguity  that  does  not readily  appear  in  the  language  of  a  document,

but instead arises from a collateral matter when the document’s terms are applied or executed <the

contract contained a latent ambiguity: the shipping terms stated that the goods would arrive on the

Peerless,  but  two  ships  have  that  name>.  —  Also  termed  extrinsic  ambiguity;  equivocation;

ambiguitas  latens.  [Cases:  Contracts    143(2);  Evidence    452.  C.J.S.  Contracts  §§  303–305;

Evidence §§ 1222–1224.]

“Instead  of  this  word  ‘equivocation,’  the  phrase  ‘latent  ambiguity’  is  sometimes  used  by

courts,  —  ‘latent’  be-cause  it  does  not  develop  until  we  seek  to  apply  it  and  then  discover  the

equivocation.  This  phrase  was  invented  by  Lord  Bacon,  in  one  of  his  maxims, and  it long  held

sway;  but  it  has  only  served  to  confuse  discussion,  and  his  other  word  for  the  same  thing,

‘equivocation,’ is more suitable, and has come into general use since Professor Thayer’s masterly

analysis of the subject some fifty years ago.” John H. Wigmore, A Students’ Textbook of the Law

of Evidence 529 (1935). — In fact, the usual term today is latent ambiguity. — Eds.

patent  ambiguity  (payt-<<schwa>>nt).  An  ambiguity  that  clearly  appears  on  the  face  of  a

document,  arising  from  the  language  itself  <the  nonperformance  was  excused  because  the  two

different  prices  expressed  in  the  contract  created  a  patent  ambiguity>.  —  Also  termed  intrinsic

ambiguity;  ambiguitas  patens.  [Cases:  Contracts    143(2);  Evidence    451.  C.J.S.  Contracts  §§

303–305; Evidence §§ 1222, 1224–1225.]

“[L]atent ambiguity …  must be  carefully  distinguished  from  patent ambiguity, where words

are omitted, or con-tradict one another; for in such cases explanatory evidence is not admissible.

Where a bill of exchange was ex-pressed in  words to be drawn  for ‘two  hundred  pounds’ but in

figures for ‘£245,’ evidence was not admitted to show that the figures expressed the intention of

the parties.” William R. Anson, Principles of the Law of Contract 401 (Arthur L. Corbin ed., 3d

Am. ed. 1919). [Blacks Law 8th]