Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Equivocal


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is equivocal. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Equivocal means “having two or more possible meanings” or “difficult to understand or explain.” It can also mean “uncertain.”

// When I asked Fatima how her job was going, she gave me an equivocal response: “Let’s just say I won’t be a sous-chef for much longer.”

// The most recent clinical trial produced equivocal results.

EQUIVOCAL in Context

“Hitchhiking—that good old sustainable form of ride-sharing—has declined in popularity in recent years, stoked by equivocal legislation and shifting cultural attitudes. But, with climate change becoming an increasingly urgent crisis, the need for more creative transportation options has never been more pressing.” — Brendan Sainsbury, Condé Nast Traveler, 3 Jan. 2022

Did You Know?

If you’re unsure about how to use equivocal properly, it may help to first remember its antonym, unequivocal, which is without a doubt the more common word of the two. As unequivocal means “leaving no doubt” or “unquestionable,” it stands to reason that equivocal applies to language that is open to multiple, often differing interpretations. Equivocal can also have a sinister slant: equivocal language is usually used to mislead or confuse, its vagueness allowing the speaker to avoid committing to a firm position or opinion, and to later disavow anything listeners found objectionable if need be. To use a related verb, politicians are often accused of equivocating when, for example, they respond to yes-or-no questions with rambling, unrelated anecdotes.

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