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equivocal

[ih-kwiv-uh-kuh l]
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adjective
  1. allowing the possibility of several different meanings, as a word or phrase, especially with intent to deceive or misguide; susceptible of double interpretation; deliberately ambiguous: an equivocal answer.
  2. of doubtful nature or character; questionable; dubious; suspicious: aliens of equivocal loyalty.
  3. of uncertain significance; not determined: an equivocal attitude.
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Origin of equivocal

1375–1425; late Middle English equivoc (< Late Latin aequivocus ambiguous, equivalent to Latin aequi- equi- + vōc-, stem of vōx voice + -us adj. suffix) + -al1
Related formse·quiv·o·cal·i·ty, e·quiv·o·ca·cy [ih-kwiv-uh-kuh-see] /ɪˈkwɪv ə kə si/, noune·quiv·o·cal·ly, adverbe·quiv·o·cal·ness, nounnon·e·quiv·o·cal, adjectivenon·e·quiv·o·cal·ly, adverb
Can be confusedequivalent equivocal

Synonym study

1. See ambiguous.

Pronunciation note

The four-syllable word equivocal is sometimes said by those not entirely familiar with it as [ih-kwiv-uh-kuh-buh l] /ɪˈkwɪv ə kə bəl/, as if it were a five-syllable word, equivocable. This is probably the result of conflation with the pronunciations heard for many common adjectives that do end with -cable, as applicable, communicable, despicable, and eradicable.
However, if you split equivocal in half, as equi- + -vocal, the relation of its spelling to its origin and meanings becomes more clear. Think “equal voices,” two or more voices in conflict over a meaning, attitude, statement, etc., resulting in ambiguity, indecision, or deception. Recombine equi- + -vocal, put the main stress on the second syllable, and you have it: [ih-kwiv-uh-kuh l] /ɪˈkwɪv ə kəl/.
The form with the extra syllable is not found in educated writing, nor are any of its matching derivatives, like equivocably, unequivocable, and unequivocably. These are not considered standard variants and are best avoided in writing and speech.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for equivocacy

equivocal

adjective
  1. capable of varying interpretations; ambiguous
  2. deliberately misleading or vague; evasive
  3. of doubtful character or sincerity; dubious
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Derived Formsequivocally, adverbequivocality or equivocalness, noun

Word Origin

C17: from Late Latin aequivocus, from Latin equi- + vōx voice
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for equivocacy

equivocal

adj.

c.1600, from Late Latin aequivocus "of equal voice, of equal significance, ambiguous" (see equivocation) + -al (1). Earlier in same sense was equivoque (late 14c.). Related: Equivocally (1570s).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper