"You canker blossom!" 3 Shakespearean Insults


[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 vox + -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.
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. 2015.
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Examples from the web for equivocal
  • But the evidence is at best equivocal.
  • Such rampant indeterminacy is meant to sound embracing and supportive; instead, it reads like equivocal psychobabble.
  • All answers are a bit equivocal, given the chronic onshore and offshore movement of publishing waves.
  • But he is equivocal about whether he intends to write any more fiction.
  • There is nothing equivocal about her belief.
  • But in the past he has been less equivocal.
  • There are scores of punning prophecies equally equivocal.
  • And where the verdict of use is equivocal, a dictionary should give readers the wherewithal to make up their own minds.
  • The archaeological evidence for ancient cookery is equivocal.
  • Maggie's decision to quit her job and stay home is similarly equivocal.
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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