[A]n adjective placed before two juxtaposed nouns is apparently the servant of either master. So "Fabulous Christmas Bargains" is taken to mean fabulous…bargains for Christmas, whereas "Continental Holiday Brochures" are brochures for continental holidays. It is no answer to say that commonsense will guide us to the right interpretation; bargains for a wonderful Christmas and continental leaflets for holidays are both real concepts. And what of the shop's apology based on "Temporary Assistant Shortage"?―is this a shortage of temporary assistants…or a temporary shortage of assistants (whether they are permanent or not)? It will be realised that this seemingly pithy form of expression is always technically open to two meanings, is sometimes actually so, and is occasionally bizarre….
Source: Basil Cottle, The Plight of English: Ambiguities, Cacophonies and Other Violations of Our Language (Arlington House, 1975), pp. 33-34.
All that glitters is not gold.
"Scope" is a technical notion, but if you're not familiar with it you can acquire a grasp of it through examples. For instance, consider the famous saying:
All that glitters is not gold.
Logical terms such as "not" have a scope, that is, a part of the proposition in which they occur that they affect logically. For example, "not" logically negates some part of the proposition, or the proposition taken as a whole, and this is its scope.
In the artificial languages of logic, scope ambiguity is avoided by conventions for interpreting propositions, and by introducing additional punctuation (usually parentheses) to indicate scope. Contrastingly, in natural languages, while there are various grammatical devices to indicate scope, ambiguity is still frequent. Often, natural language is disambiguated by common sense knowledge that we bring to our interpretations. For instance, in the example, we automatically reject the first interpretation because that would make the proposition false. Thus, scope ambiguity in natural language is often not obvious until pointed out, or exploited for humor.
Usually, scope ambiguity takes the form of a "broad" and "narrow" scope, as in the example, where the broad scope often is the entire sentence, and the narrow scope is some smaller part of it. Since this is a type of structural ambiguity, and not equivocation on the meaning of words, scope ambiguity is a type of amphiboly.
The following types of logical and grammatical categories have scope, and are therefore liable to ambiguities of scope in natural languages:
Scope ambiguities, as ambiguities in general, are linguistic boobytraps which can cause people to fall into fallacy. Of all amphibolies, scope ambiguities seem to be those most likely to cause fallacious reasoning, especially in philosophical and pseudo-philosophical arguments.
Monsieur Lebec: (To Chuck) I'm afraid your friend hasn't told you everything. He promised to take us to a lost diamond mine, you see. (To Fearless) What kind of diamonds are in it?
Source: The Road to Zanzibar (1941).
Ted Honderich (editor),The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995.