Equivocation (definition)


the intentional use of imprecise language designed to avoid a loss of face.

“people equivocate when posed a question to which all of the possible replies have potentially negative consequences, but where nevertheless a reply is still expected” (Bavelas et al)

Politicians typically equivocate when they are asked a conflictual question which is designed to attack their face. In order to defend their face, the politician answers in an ambiguous manner. This helps to protect their face and the face of their party.


In the example below, David Gauke, is asked whether he supports the creation of new grammar schools which at the time was a contentious subject. Rather than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ he equivocates.

AN: David Gauke
    do you (.) support the creation of new grammar schools
DG: well look (.)
    there is a lot of press speculation at the moment
    about er any sort of future announcement
    that may b- may be made
    on er er [education policy
AN:          [I’m I’m asking for your view
                       (DG=David Gauke; AN=Andrew Neil)

Listen to audio

Further examples


Hamilton, M. A., & Mineo, P. J. (1998). A framework for understanding equivocation. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 17, 3-35.

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