I was recently contemplating how ambiguous English is — though I imagine this is true in large measure of all commonly spoken human languages — and I was reminded of this cool example. Take the word "and"; surely that must be about as clear as it gets. It isn't used figuratively; it doesn't have slang meanings; it's eminently concrete and functional.

Then think about the phrases "I like coffee and tea" and "I like whiskey and soda." How can English speakers even function? And yet we generally manage just fine.

By the way, if anyone knows the original source for this observation, please let me know. I vaguely recall having seen it in a case discussing statutory construction, but my quick search failed to uncover it. UPDATE: Commenter Andy Grewal comes through -- the source is Judge Rogers' dissent in OfficeMax v. U.S. (6th Cir. 2005), which uses "beer and wine" and "bourbon and water." Thanks!