Letting a word mean two different things at the same time. In other words, using at least two more or less different concepts as definitions for the same term at the same time. Normally far more subtle than jokes such as “A feather is light. What is light cannot be dark. Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.” Equivocation can also be a matter of having different conceptualizations or connotations of the same concept, which is a step towards eventually splitting them into separate concepts.
A equivocation can thus be a step towards a more nuanced understanding, but it can also be a kind of magical thinking or con artistry. A discursive sleight of hand, where different things become the same thing – or a category of people gains certain characteristics - simply by virtue of language having been used in that particular way. Note that equivocation can happen without being used by a person: It can also be a matter of two or more persons talking past each other by each of them using different definitions of the same word in the same conversation. (In Swedish: ekvivokation or dubbeldefinition)
As an expression of categorism, equivocation can start out as an innocent preconception turning into prejudice, or start out as an attempt to justify already exiting bigotry. Either way, equivocations are a central tool for creating and upholding Fuzzy foci of categorism
Equivocations is one of the main ways of creating a deepity.
- Stigmatization: Take one blame-worthy behavior and one superficially similar very different behavior, pretend that they are the same thing and stigmatize the later as if it were the former. For example, expand the concept of "murderer" to include games where no actual person actually gets hurt - then look down on teens as if they were "murderers" simply for playing "violent" computer games.
- Monolithization: The word "group" has two very different meanings: One refers to actual groups of individuals who actually interact with each other and work together, while the other simply is synonomous with the word "category". This makes it much easier to do monolitization, as we can mistake the two meanings for being the same thing - and thus infer that everyone of the same category (for example all women, all men, all black people, all white people, all Christians, all Atheists or all Jews) are secrently hanging out with each other and work on some kind of unified agenda.
Equivocation in example texts
- Mr Garrison's Homophobia: The teacher manages to seamlessly blend two very different definitions of the word "heart" with each other, thus seamlessly transitioning the rant from demonization to dehumanization.