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Well, the title has the question, but I also wanted to ask if "deutig" alone means something.

One would think that it comes from Deutung (interpretation?) and since it looks like an adjective, it could mean something like "interpreted", but my senses tell me that the word doesn't exist by its own because there is also "gedeutet" and "interpretiert".

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I wonder why nobody jokes around with the phrase "Das ist eindeutig zweideutig", meaning "this definitely has a potential sexually suggestive meaning". (Note the "definitely" vs. "potential" contrast.) –  TheBlastOne Mar 8 '12 at 16:06
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The adjective (?) "deutig" doesnt exist.

About the other words: In my opinion only "zweideutig" and "mehrdeutig" are commonly used. The words have quite a different emphasis: "zweideutig" is usually a word or an expression which could be interpreted in a sexually suggestive way. Think like this: If you could add "that's what she said" then the sentence/expression before was an example of something "zweideutig". Example: The word "Schwanz" which can turn an innocent tv show for childs into an immature gigglefest.

If we talk about words with the potential to be understood in serveral "normal" ways, you would call them "mehrdeutig".

"Vieldeutig" seems to exist, but I really can't remember to have it heard in an everyday conversation. The meaning is quite similar to "mehrdeutig". A hint on the usage of the two words can be seen in this graph:

enter image description here

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Your speculations about the origin of "-deutig" are absolutely correct with the minor but in this case maybe important fact that they all origin from the verb "deuten":

  • deuten:
    to interprete, to point at/to, to indicate

The etymology of "deuten" is interesting in many aspects as the meaning from the original Old High German thiuten did not change much. Before that we have Germanic þeuðō, and Indo-European teutā that are also the root for "Deutsch". Even then the meaning was close to today "to explain or translate something to a public congregation"(DWDS).

The solitary adjective "deutig" is only preserved in combination with numerals, where we simply count the number of "explanations" we may have for a single fact or term. Just as a side note: we also have such weird constructs like "unzweideutig".

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Very interesting answer, thank you. –  kmels Mar 8 '12 at 13:03
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The origin may be Bedeutung (meaning). deutig is no stand alone word.

zweideutig means, there are two meanings, mehrdeutig and vieldeutig there are more meanings. I think you may not compare zweideutig with the other two values, it is another meaning.

I prefer mehrdeutig to vieldeutig. It seems, that mehrdeutig is becoming a bit more popular then vieldeutig (See ngramm).

NGRAM Source: google-ngramm

There is also a eindeutig (unambiguous), which is really more common.

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