Is "trace the route" in the following ambiguous between a finger-moving action and actual driving, walking, or otherwise moving along a route in the real world?

John traced the route on the map.

I'd appreciate your help.


The sentence would be understood to mean that John ran his finger/pencil etc along the route concerned on the paper/digital map in front of him.

In the real world, he would follow/take the route, whether on foot/cycle/vehicle etc.

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  • But in "A tear traced a path down her cheek," "trace" can mean actual movement along a path, not any kind of simulation. Why is it interpreted differently from the one in the OP? – Apollyon Feb 1 at 10:33
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    As is so often the case, context is everything. Words are slippery customers. They are understood to mean completely different things in different situations. A word such as sanction can actually be interpreted as either to allow or to punish. – Ronald Sole Feb 1 at 10:53
  • Context has limits. It'd be interesting (and important) to know what it is about the context that makes a certain interpretation possible/impossible. – Apollyon Feb 1 at 10:56
  • What makes a certain interpretation the most likely is knowledge. We know that people trace routes on maps, that tears trace routes down cheeks. – Michael Harvey Feb 1 at 11:20

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