Equivocation Fallacy: Definition and Examples

Equivocation Fallacy: Definition and Examples

The term equivocation refers to the use of ambiguous language, meaning words or phrases that can be interpreted in more than one way, in an attempt to hide the truth or avoid commitment to a point of view.

Equivocation fallacy occurs when someone uses such language in order to support or refute an argument. It may be committed, for example, in the political arena when someone wishes to avoid a certain question and, instead of answering directly, they give a vague response that doesn’t really address the question.

It is also known as “doublespeak”.


The fallacy of equivocation arises when someone uses the same phrase to mean two different things in a way that renders the argument unsound.

It’s a type of logical fallacy and, more specifically, falls into the category of informal fallacies.

An example would be:

  • “Singer X is a real star. The sun is also a star. Therefore, singer X and the sun are identical in many ways.”

This is a simple example, but it shows how ambiguous language could be used — whether deliberately or by accident — to reach a conclusion that is not sound. Here, the word “star” is erroneously employed in two, unrelated senses.


  • “It is right to be sad instead of joyous because it’s everyone’s right to feel sad if they wish to.”
  • Taxes are a true headache. Pain killers will make a headache go away. Therefore, pain killers will make taxes go away.
  • “My father told me that people who have faith go to heaven. I have faith in evolutionary theory. Therefore, I will go to heaven.”
  • “A man is the only intelligent animal on the planet. And, since a woman is not a man, we can say that women are not intelligent.”

An elephant is an animal. A gray elephant is a gray animal. Therefore, a small elephant is a small animal.

Douglas N. Walton, Informal Fallacies: Towards a Theory of Argument Criticisms (1987).