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Today, while reading an online article, I came across the following comment:

Young people regret their mistakes. Old people regret not deciding. In the contest of prevaricating between which choices we predict we will one day celebrate and those we will one day regret and the alternative of taking decisive action now, it is the latter that should win. Go for it!

It seems to me that the word "prevaricate" is being used incorrectly here- my understanding is that the word denotes evasive behaviour. Am I correct in thinking that the above sentence makes no sense? I'm inclined to think that the poster should have used 'vacillate'instead.

Thank you.

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I think you're right: vacillating is the better word. I can't imagine what the poster was thinking. Then again, this being the Internet, thinking isn't the normal course of action. –  Robusto Dec 18 '12 at 13:46
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-1 Can you cite the source? Obviously, it is not an authentic text and not expected to be one. Always try to include a link to the source. –  Kris Dec 18 '12 at 15:56
    
@Kris: Here's the source. I see no good reason to suppose it's even from a native speaker - and given the contest/context "typo", I just think the whole question is Too Localised. –  FumbleFingers Dec 18 '12 at 17:08
    
@FumbleFingers I know. Just reminding the OP; let's here from OP. –  Kris Dec 19 '12 at 4:02
    
I'm not sure what you mean by 'authentic'.. –  janexlane Dec 19 '12 at 12:27
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closed as too localized by FumbleFingers, tchrist, Hellion, Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Mahnax Dec 19 '12 at 1:55

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1 Answer

Yes, that is indeed a catachrestic use of prevaricate, although I have seen it used that way before myself. Prevaricate means to dissemble or in fact simply to lie. The dominant intransitive sense of that verb according to the OED is:

To deviate from straightforwardness; to act or speak evasively; to quibble, shuffle, equivocate.

Interesting that I see equivocate mentioned there in prevaricate’s definition, as equivocate is sometimes also misused in the same sort of situation that you illustrated above. I guess people just don’t know what those words really mean, but use them because they seem big and important.

I suspect that the word they meant to use was vacillate; it’s the one that fits there. Some argument might perhaps also be made for oscillate, but that sounds more like something a machine or a wave-form might do than a person.

But waver is probably best. It says exactly what is meant, and it doesn’t require extra syllables or some knowledge of Latin.

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+1. But whether OP adopts your emendation or sticks with her own, this will still be a horrible sentence in a horrible paragraph: an initial opposition followed by two pair of nested oppositions, climaxing in an invitation to select "the latter". I thought Graves & Hodge had killed this sort of thing. –  StoneyB Dec 18 '12 at 15:52
    
Thanks, I shall look that up. –  janexlane Dec 19 '12 at 12:30
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