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[ih-kwiv-uh-kuh l] /ɪˈkwɪv ə kəl/
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.
of doubtful nature or character; questionable; dubious; suspicious:
aliens of equivocal loyalty.
of uncertain significance; not determined:
an equivocal attitude.
Origin of equivocal
late Middle English
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 forms
equivocality, equivocacy
[ih-kwiv-uh-kuh-see] /ɪˈkwɪv ə kə si/ (Show IPA),
equivocally, adverb
equivocalness, noun
nonequivocal, adjective
nonequivocally, adverb
Can be confused
equivalent, 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/ (Show IPA) 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. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for equivocal
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • At our request the Meccans stayed also in the rear; we did not desire the equivocal effect of their company on a first appearance.

    Travels in Arabia Bayard Taylor
  • Le Gardeur gave Anglique an equivocal look at mention of his sister.

    The Golden Dog William Kirby
  • The speech referred to commercial policy in terms which the Hon. Mr. Villiers denounced as "vague and equivocal."

  • Of course she could not remain longer in a position so dangerous and equivocal.

    The Doomsman Van Tassel Sutphen
  • "This was something of a difficult undertaking, too," said he, with an equivocal smile.

    The Fortunes Of Glencore Charles James Lever
  • Democedes received the equivocal donation with great good nature.

    Darius the Great Jacob Abbott
  • Stay my stomach with half a glass of equivocal looking water, and exit.

    Doesticks, What He Says Q. K. Philander Doesticks
British Dictionary definitions for equivocal


capable of varying interpretations; ambiguous
deliberately misleading or vague; evasive
of doubtful character or sincerity; dubious
Derived Forms
equivocally, adverb
equivocality, 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
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Word Origin and History for equivocal

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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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