For many living in today’s society, the equivocal answer is an essential tool.
Many a person in a responsible position feels they are a glorified servant. Why? Because they have power, they are often asked for things. They can just say no, but such an answer might make them unpopular. In a democratic society, unpopularity is menacing. So perhaps they don’t say yes or no; they simply answer “maybe”, in one of many ways.
Politicians are sometimes accused of not giving a definite answer, but rather an equivocal one. I’ve looked up equivocal in my Collins Essential Canadian, my Merriam-Webster, and my Oxford Canadian dictionaries. All three suggest the meaning “uncertain” or “ambiguous”. However, the Oxford Canadian is my favourite for another meaning it gives: “capable of more than one interpretation.”
As a parent, I’ve no choice but to give equivocal answers often. A parent can be asked for five hours’ worth of activities during a five minute conversation. Even if the parent would like to give the children all they ask for, it’s impossible. “No” is perhaps more provocative than “maybe.” (I can only imagine what politicians are asked for; they obviously can’t say yes to everyone!)
In the academic world, by contrast, equivocal answers are generally not so appreciated. Academics believe much more in right vs wrong, or, in the case of English, coherent vs incoherent. As I was telling my son this morning: dealing with people is often more complicated than doing schoolwork. If you’re right on a math test, you can count on getting credit for it. By contrast: suppose that, in a social situation, you’re right, while your friend is wrong. While not acquiescing, you might still need to make some space for their point of view, using soothing, equivocal language.
I’ll be talking much more about the fascinating phenomenon of people skills:)
Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.