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The Equivocation Fallacy: What It Is And How To Avoid It

In argumentation, it’s important to be as clear and concise as possible. This helps you establish your point with greater strength and credibility. Unfortunately, there are several logical fallacies that can muddle up your argument and make your writing less effective. 

One such informal fallacy is the equivocation fallacy. Although it is a common fallacy, it is also one of the most difficult to catch and avoid. So if you are unaware of it, your opponent might use it against you.

In addition, if you are making this fallacy yourself, it will damage the strength of your argument. So it is important that you learn how to spot and avoid this fallacy before you make your argument. 

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the equivocation fallacy and how you can avoid it in your own writing. 

What is the Equivocation Fallacy?

The equivocation fallacy occurs when a word or phrase is used in multiple senses throughout an argument, thus muddying up the meaning of the claim. 

This can happen in two ways: either the same word is used with different meanings in different parts of the argument, or different words are used that have similar meanings. Either way, the result is that the reader is left confused about what the author is trying to say.

Sometimes, the person making the argument uses equivocation intentionally to obfuscate the argument and confuse the audience. In this sense, its usage is similar to the strawman or red herring fallacies, which are also used to mislead the audience.

Equivocation Fallacy Examples

Take a look at these few examples of equivocation.

  • All laws are created by lawmakers. There are laws of nature. Hence, there must be a lawmaker for nature.
  • She is an amazing star. Stars are large balls of gas. So she is a ball of gas.
  • I bought the goods 
  • All trees have barks. Every dog barks. Hence dogs are trees.
  • Salesman: “Please buy this pen!” 

Person: “Yes, you have a point!”

  • Person A: Stealing is bad!

Person B: But baseball players steal all the time!

So, can you see the pattern? That is what equivocation looks like during argumentation and daily conversation.

Now you would have an easier time avoiding this fallacy. Let’s take a look at some more steps you can take to avoid this fallacy.

How to Avoid Equivocation Fallacies in Your Writing 

The best way to avoid an equivocation fallacy in your writing is to be aware of it! Once you know what this fallacy looks like, you’ll be able to catch yourself before you accidentally use it in your arguments. 

Pay attention to whether or not you’re using words in multiple senses, or using different words that mean roughly the same thing. If you find yourself doing either of these things, reevaluate your argument and see if there’s a clearer way to express what you’re trying to say. 

Always try to use clear and precise language. You can do that by using appropriate words and by defining your terms. It should be clear what the terms you are using mean.

When arguing or debating with someone, always ask them to define their terms first. It will clarify 

How do you identify equivocation?

Identifying the equivocation fallacy requires a keen eye and attention to detail. In sophisticated argumentative writing, it is rather a difficult fallacy to spot. 

To identify equivocation, you need to analyze the argument and see the difference between what was claimed and what was concluded. This means looking at the major terms and checking whether their meaning has remained consistent throughout the argument.

The equivocation fallacy can be a tricky one to spot. Be wary of using words with multiple meanings or synonyms with similar meanings throughout your argument, as this will only confuse your reader. With a little bit of effort, you can steer clear of this common pitfall!

Jessica Haris
Jessica Haris
Lead Author

Holds a degree in Literature from the University of Utah and has been writing for more than 10 years.

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