Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the existence of more than one meaning for a given word, that is, the capability of a word to convey different information about objects and phenomena of extralinguistic reality. For example, the Russian word gorlo has four meanings: “throat” (the front part of the neck), “gullet” (the cavity behind the mouth), “neck” (the narrowed upper part of a bottle), and “estuary” (a narrow water passage). In many languages, including Russian, there are more polysemous words than words with one meaning. It is customary to differentiate polysemy from homonymy, since the meanings of a polysemous word are associated with common semantic elements (semantic attributes) and form a certain semantic unity (the semantic structure of the word).

In polysemy, a distinction is made between primary and secondary (derived) meanings; these meanings are sometimes referred to as literal and figurative, respectively. Primary meanings, as a rule, are least affected by context. With time, the relationship between the primary and secondary meanings may change. Different types of polysemy exist for different types of words; for example, there is relatively regular and irregular polysemy. Russian words designating populated areas, such as a city, village, or settlement, can also mean “the inhabitants of a populated area,” that is, they follow a definite [regular] semantic formula; secondary [figurative] meanings, for example, the application of names of animals (lion, fox) to people, are individual [irregular]. The unique combination of meanings designated by a single word is to a large extent what determines the uniqueness of the word stock of a given language. The grammatical forms of a word and syntactic constructions may also be polysemous.


Vinogradov, V. V. “Osnovnye tipy leksicheskikh znachenii slova.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1953, no. 5.
Akhmanova, O. S. Ocherki po obshchei i russkoi leksikologii. Moscow, 1957.
Kurylowycz, J. “Zametki o znachenii slova.” In Ocherki po lingvistike. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from Polish, English, French, and German.)
Ullmann, S. The Principles of Semantics, 2nd ed. Glasgow, 1959.




an important concept in logic, logical semantics, semiotics, and linguistics. Polysemy was originally a linguistic concept, but it is natural that the concept should have found application in all the above-mentioned fields. Polysemy is the existence of different senses and/or meanings for a single word, expression, or phrase; the term also denotes the existence of different interpretations for a single sign or combination of signs. The term is usually applied when the different senses, meanings, or interpretations are to some extent interrelated.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It can be shown that the apparent polysemy of the agent and instrument suffixes in Romance and Germanic can be traced back to two independent suffixes stemming from Latin -tor (agentive) and -torium (instrumental).
This indicates that the generated visual dictionary by weakly supervised E2LSH clustering is superior to AKM in overcoming the problem of synonymy and polysemy of visual words.
H9: An increase in online review word polysemy will decrease review helpfulness
Naas's thesis is that 'Plato's Pharmacy' is above all a critique of metaphysics, a text that enables Derrida 'both to argue for a new hermeneutics and conception of meaning, dissemination rather than polysemy, and display a new practice of reading and writing in line with that hermeneutics' (46).
If Epstein had included a more thorough reflection on the style and special language of the Wake, followed by analysis of the poetic polysemy of the text, his book would have gained immensely.
If you need a fancy term for multiple meanings of a word, it's polysemy. Run takes up half again as much space as its nearest polysemous competitor, put, which itself is far more polysemous than the third word in this race, set.
24/2000 on rules of legislative techniques for legal drafting, by which it intervenes legislatively to moderate the inconveniences of polysemy, because "the law makes the choice, it excludes.
Old Polish and Old Czech reflected this fact by the polysemy: gardlo and hrdlo respectively for 1.
All in all, the diachronic evolution of JUST involves two converging trends: on the one hand, increasing polysemy, from one scalar reading in the early times (exact) to an array of senses in contemporary English which confirms the well-known universal path from concrete to abstract and from objective to subjective; and on the other, increasing grammatical restriction, that is, more contextual constraints, since JUST is no longer possible with a large number of collocations actually attested in early texts, as in the Oxford English Dictionary examples 9 to 12 below.
For Natalie Jones Loper, Julia Stiles becomes iconic of a quiet girl's intellectual power because she reads the polysemy of Stiles's performances as accruing meaning not only through each new performance, but also through each new interview and public declaration (whether creative or journalistic).
Because Larsons method is to follow metaphors borrowed by science from society and then returned to society in a feedback loop, he attends to polysemy: "Ecologists attribute a specific meaning to terms such as community ...