The fallacy of equivocation can be difficult to spot, because both of the premises appear to be true, and sometimes the conclusion seems to follow them. However, in this fallacy, the meaning of a certain word is unclear and it causes the meaning of the entire argument to be invalid. This can occur either by using the same word twice, each time with a different meaning, or by using one word that has an ambiguous meaning.


My history professor said everyone who wrote a term paper favoring the separatists in the Philippines is sick. I guess if I'm sick, I can skip class today.

The word "sick" is used in the argument twice, each with a different meaning. The professor meant mentally disturbed, and the student thought he meant physically ill.

Hot dogs are better than nothing. Nothing is better than steak. Therefore, hot dogs are better than steak.

It is not hard to spot the logical fallacy in this argument: the conclusion is obviously wrong although the premises are both true. There is an equivocation in the meaning of the word "nothing;" in the first premise, it means "not a thing," and in the second premise, it means "no other possible thing." Using a critical word with two different meanings makes the argument invalid.

Now you see how one word with two different meanings can be an equivocation. The other way in which reasoning may be deemed invalid due to this fallacy is by using one word that has a number of different meanings. For example, "My house is by the lake. Why don't you drop in?" Two meanings of the word "drop" could be right. It might mean, "Why don't you stop by my house," or it could mean "why don't you fall into the lake." The equivocation of the word "drop" makes the meaning of the sentences unclear. "Save soap and waste paper" is another good example. The word "waste" could mean either the noun "garbage," or the verb "to use thoughtlessly."

Equivocation can be confusing because it begins with truthful or reasonable premises, which you can agree with. Then, the meaning of a critical word is changed and an illogical or faulty conclusion is drawn. If you follow the argument, you could fall into the trap of agreeing with something you would never have otherwise accepted. The best way to handle this fallacy is to get information. Ask for clear definitions of any critical terms that could be used in different ways. When you have pinned them down, they can't be changed later on.

Friendly Persuasion

Friendly Persuasion

To do this successfully you need to build a clear path of action by using tools if necessary. These tools would be facts, evidence and stories which you know they can relate to. Plus you always want to have their best interests at heart, in other words, you know what is good for them

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