Trend Watch


A heated exchange during the Democratic debate

At the Democratic debate, in an energetic exchange on the minimum wage during which both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders raised their voices, Sanders wrapped up his argument by saying: “I think we need to be clear and not equivocate: $15 in all fifty states as soon as possible.” In the heat of the moment and in the context of heated rhetoric, his pronunciation of equivocate was slightly garbled.

Equivocate means “to use unclear language especially to deceive or mislead someone.”

The word​ comes from the Late Latin word ​aequivocus​, which means "to call by the same name." It has been used as a verb in English since 1590, in the sense of "to use equivocal language especially with intent to deceive."  

A few decades after this initial appearance the word took on an additional sense, presumably the one that was intended by Senator Sanders. There have been a few others senses of ​equivocate​, most of which are now quite obscure (such as when Randle Cotgrave used it in his 1611 French/English dictionary to mean "having the same sound as another word."

Interestingly enough, there appears to be a lost adjectival sense of the word, one which may predate its use as a verb.​ Equivocate​ may be found in Thomas Bilson’s 1585 work, ​The True Difference Betweene Christian Subiection and Unchristian Rebellion​, inhabiting this part of speech.

…your wise & worthy Bishops thought it safest to shroude their wicked resolution vnder the doubtfull & equiuocate sense of the word adoration.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!