Sunday, July 18, 2010

today’s vocabulary lesson

While reading my 1000 words of geologic literature today I encountered the sentence “However, these data may be the result of sampling mixtures of discrete fabric elements. Thus, the age of the older event is equivocal”. Since I was doing “active reading” (typing up a summary of each paragraph in my own words), I decided that I’d best actually look up “equivocal”, since while I *thought* I knew what it meant, I wasn’t willing to swear to it. So I checked the on-line Oxford English dictionary:

equivocal, a. and n.
A. adj.
1. Equal or the same in name (with something else) but not in reality; having a name, without the qualities it implies; nominal. Obs. (dates back to 1643)
2. Of words, phrases, etc.: Having different significations equally appropriate or plausible; capable of double interpretation; ambiguous. (dates back to 1601)
b. Of evidence, manifestations, etc.: Of uncertain bearing or significance. (dates back to 1969)
c. nonce-use. Of a person: Expressing himself in equivocal terms. (dates back to 1601)
3. Of uncertain nature; not admitting of being classified, ‘nondescript’. equivocal generation: the (supposed) production of plants or animals without parents; spontaneous generation. (dates back to 1658)
b. Of sentiments, etc.: Undecided, not determined to either side. Chiefly in negative sentences. (dates back to 1791)
c. Music. equivocal chord: one which may be resolved into different keys without changing any of its tones. (no date given)
4. Of advantages, merits, etc.: Dubiously genuine, questionable. (dates back to 1797)
5. Of persons, callings, tendencies, etc.: Doubtful in character or reputation; liable to unfavourable comment or description; questionable; suspicious. (dates back to 1790)
B. n. An equivocal word or term; a homonym. (dates back to 1653)

I find it fascinating that a word which comes to us from “equal” means “uncertain” (which, from the context, is the best match in this case).

1 comment:

Lockwood said...

"Equal voice" thus hard to say which voice is right, therefore uncertain.