equiv·​o·​cal | \ i-ˈkwi-və-kəl How to pronounce equivocal (audio) \

Definition of equivocal

1a : subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse an equivocal statement
b : uncertain as an indication or sign equivocal evidence
2a : of uncertain nature or classification equivocal shapes
b : of uncertain disposition toward a person or thing : undecided an equivocal attitude
c : of doubtful advantage, genuineness, or moral rectitude equivocal behavior

Other Words from equivocal

equivocality \ i-​ˌkwi-​və-​ˈka-​lə-​tē How to pronounce equivocal (audio) \ noun
equivocally \ i-​ˈkwi-​və-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce equivocal (audio) \ adverb
equivocalness \ i-​ˈkwi-​və-​kəl-​nəs How to pronounce equivocal (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for equivocal

obscure, dark, vague, enigmatic, cryptic, ambiguous, equivocal mean not clearly understandable. obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge. obscure poems dark implies an imperfect or clouded revelation often with ominous or sinister suggestion. muttered dark hints of revenge vague implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration. a vague sense of obligation enigmatic stresses a puzzling, mystifying quality. enigmatic occult writings cryptic implies a purposely concealed meaning. cryptic hints of hidden treasure ambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation. an ambiguous directive equivocal applies to language left open to differing interpretations with the intention of deceiving or evading. moral precepts with equivocal phrasing

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Equivocal, vague, and ambiguous all mean "not clearly understandable" and are used to describe confusing speech or writing. Equivocal—which can be traced back to the Latin prefix aequi- (equi-) and the Latin word vox ("voice")—applies to language left open to differing interpretations with the intention of deceiving or evading ("moral precepts with equivocal phrasing"). Vague implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration ("I had only a vague idea of how to get there"). Ambiguous, like equivocal, applies to language capable of more than one interpretation but usually does not have the negative connotations of deception or evasion ("the poet's wording is intentionally ambiguous").

Examples of equivocal in a Sentence

When I go to galleries to see new art.  … I don't care about what I see unless it holds my eye, and that is an almost involuntary experience; but once something has that hold on me—even in a tentative, equivocal way—other factors come into play, and I find myself reaching for analogies, ideas, theories. — Jed Perl, New Republic, 20 Mar. 2000 He [Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec] frequented the sleazy underworld of Paris, but moved in top circles too, and by virtue of his equivocal status as a landed gentleman-turned-bohemian artist, was sufficiently an outsider to be a detached observer of the diverse social classes among whom he ranged so freely. — Elizabeth Cowling, Times Literary Supplement, 8 Nov. 1991 … in the past, photographs of real situations in color have invited a sense of ambiguity, an element of distrust on the part of viewers, perhaps because the saturated dyes of color film seem to have an equivocal relationship to the harsher realities of social conditions. — Naomi Rosenblum, A World History of Photography, 1989 He responded to reporters' questions with equivocal answers. The experiment produced equivocal results.
Recent Examples on the Web Officials at the State Department had previously seen more opportunity to split Beijing and Moscow over the war, arguing that Beijing’s equivocal statements on the crisis pointed to discomfort at Moscow’s actions. Jennifer Jacobs, Fortune, 18 Mar. 2022 While Ukraine’s Foreign and Defense Ministers spoke warmly of their meeting in Poland Saturday with Biden, there was less equivocal support for the president’s remarks among people in Ukraine. Bloomberg.com, 26 Mar. 2022 But a cat is not a squirrel, and its menace looms above the oblivious father and uneasy daughter in images that convey the equivocal nature of the cat’s predator mind. Celia Storey, Arkansas Online, 4 Apr. 2022 Tens of thousands of Georgians have rallied to support Ukraine, and to criticize the government’s equivocal approach to a brotherly nation. New York Times, 19 Mar. 2022 Yet studies of the impact of oxybenzone on coral reefs have yielded only equivocal results. Tim Flannery, The New York Review of Books, 4 Nov. 2021 Europe's ruling soccer body already got a black eye over its equivocal stance towards LGBTQ+ rights during last summer’s European Championship, held every four years to determine the best national side. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 23 Feb. 2022 And during a postgame news conference, free safety Eric Weddle, who already previously retired before being lured back to the Rams, was the least equivocal. BostonGlobe.com, 14 Feb. 2022 The playful awe remains, but the sensation is equivocal — a stewed conflict that feels just right for our bewildering moment, when climate catastrophe battles for attention with ongoing mass death. Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'equivocal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of equivocal

1599, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for equivocal

Late Latin aequivocus, from aequi- equi- + voc-, vox voice — more at voice

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The first known use of equivocal was in 1599

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Last Updated

3 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Equivocal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equivocal. Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on equivocal

Nglish: Translation of equivocal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of equivocal for Arabic Speakers


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