When it comes to language, there’s always a chance of flawed logic or ambiguity taking over and changing the validity of its grammar. Equivocation fallacy is one such type of flawed logic that is sometimes intentionally used to depict humor.
Did You Know?
Equivocation literally means ‘to speak in more than one voice.’
Tell us what comes to your mind when you read this:
Religion teaches us that having faith is necessary when we pray for whatever it is that we want. Faith is defined as an irrational belief in the absence of concrete evidence. Therefore, religion promotes irrationality.
Wait, what?! Something doesn’t quite add up there, does it? Religions don’t promote irrationality, but it is the structure of that sentence that makes it seem so. Every language is so versatile, and gives us countless opportunities to shape our sentences and phrases the way we want, so as to create the desired effect of the same. However, sometimes, certain sentences or phrases can be rather vague and ambiguous, which might lead to a confused interpretations. At other times, sentences are deliberately misinterpreted for a funny effect. These misinterpreted phrases may lead the listener/reader to make a conclusion that is far from the truth. Experts call this phenomenon a fallacy of ambiguity.
So what is a fallacy of ambiguity? It is, like the name suggests, flawed logic where a phrase or a sentence does not have a concrete, clear, well-understood meaning, but is vague and disoriented. Such types of fallacies not only are capable of misinterpreting any statement, but are also capable of drawing incorrect conclusions. Ambiguous fallacy types are several, and are often used intentionally or unintentionally for making sarcastic or humorous statements. The most popularly used fallacies of ambiguity are accent, amphiboly, composition, division, and equivocation.
Equivocation Fallacy: Meaning
Whenever any word is used in order to make a statement or an argument, ideally, it should be used in a way that it has the same meaning for a consistent period of time, right? Equivocation fallacy begs to differ. Equivocation fallacy occurs when one word has two different meanings. Simply put, the same word is used in two different contexts in the same phrase. Phrases that contain equivocation fallacy are not grammatically incorrect, but a change in the meaning of a word tends to change the subject of that sentence or phrase entirely.
Equivocation fallacy is intentionally used to depict humor or puns, more often by cartoonists. Both meanings of the same word are factually and grammatically correct when used in different contexts, but end up making an illogical statement when used in the same sentence/phrase/argument. This fallacy makes an invalid argument or a phrase look like it is actually valid and reliable. To make the concept easier, we have covered some popular and easy-to-understand examples of this type of fallacy in the next section.
Equivocation Fallacy: Examples
Sometimes, equivocation fallacy occurs unintentionally, but there are times when it is used on purpose. Let us look at some popular, hilarious, and widely-used examples of equivocation fallacy in politics, media, and in our everyday lives. For better understanding, we are highlighting the words where equivocation fallacy can be observed.
Context 1: The sign says ‘fine for parking here.’
Context 2: The sign says parking is fine
Conclusion: I’m parking my car here.
Trees have branches. My bank has branches all over the world. Therefore, my bank is a tree.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts make a right.
All killers are inhuman. Hence, no killer is a human.
Thrilling books are very rare. Rare books are expensive. So, thrilling books are expensive.
A noisy child is a headache. My medicine makes a headache go away. So, my medicine makes children go away.
Jesus is the word of God. The Bible is the word of God. So, Jesus is the Bible.
Money put in the bank earns you interest. A bank is the land beside a river. If I want interest on my money, I must put it in the land beside the river.
All trees have barks. Every dog barks. Therefore, every dog is a tree.
It is expected that we only do what is right. We have the right to eat as much as we want. Therefore, it is right to eat as much as you want.
Man is rational. No woman is a man. Therefore, women are not rational. (Really? We don’t find this funny!)
Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth. – Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1)
Shakespeare used equivocation in Macbeth, for eventually it is Macduff who kills Macbeth, and he is born by the Caesarian section (ripped untimely from his mother’s womb) so is not ‘mother-born’ in that sense. However, the scene we’ve mentioned above leads us to initially believe that Macbeth is immortal or invincible.
So these were some examples of equivocation fallacy. Isn’t it funny how one word can change the meaning of a phrase or an argument entirely just because it is not used in the correct context? Can you think of more examples of equivocation fallacy? If yes, feel free to let us know through the comments below!
Disclaimer: The examples provided in this article are not meant to offend anyone in any way.