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Please consider the following sentences

In the journalist meeting, the politician evaded the questions about riots.
in the journalist meeting, the politician sidestepped the questions about riots.

Do the above sentences have the same meaning?

As fundamental rule, no two words would have same meaning at all times. I expect some differences between evade and sidestep, which is why I am asking this question.

The "Dictionary" software which I am using shows the below definitions:

Evade = escape or avoid, esp. by cleverness or trickery
Sidestep = avoid (someone or something) by stepping sideways

I am unable to make out the differences between those two definitions.

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"As a fundamental rule, no two words would have the same meaning all the time." Even if that were true, they might have the same meaning some of the time. –  Andrew Leach Dec 21 '12 at 15:25

3 Answers 3

I would consider sidestepped the slightly more informal of the two words. That said, I like it better than evaded in this context.

With evade, I often think of eluding capture, like a criminal evading the authorities. That's not the only meaning of the word, but it is one of them. In the context of a press conference, I'd think that one who evaded questions on certain topic might abruptly announce the press conference was over, and walk out of the room. Someone who sidestepped the questions, though, would remain at the podium, and avoid answering the questions directly - this is what I assume the writer is trying to describe.

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Without knowing more about the author's intent, it's hard to say which would be more appropriate, but I agree with your assessment of the connotations of the two words. If I heard evaded, I would probably assume that the politician handled the situation poorly or clumsily, whereas side-stepped would make me think it was handled more deftly –  Kevin Dec 21 '12 at 15:46
    
@Kevin: It's possible that one might interpret the two sentences that way, even if that wasn't the intent of the author. (We usually don't know if an author carefully weighed out, say, sidestepped, avoided, and evaded, and then selected one after much deliberation, of if the writer simply went with the first "close" word that came to mind, and never even bothered to consider other candidate synonyms.) I stated an assumption in my answer; if that assumption is wrong, then my analysis wouldn't apply :^) –  J.R. Dec 21 '12 at 15:55
    
I might go further and say that to evade means to avoid encounter. One way to evade a question might be to steer the conversation away so that the question never even arises. –  Jim Dec 21 '12 at 16:01

In these sentences, they mean the same thing. Side-step is one technique for evading. However, since they are both being used in the figurative sense, they have virtually identical meanings in this context.

If they were used in describing an actual fight

The boxer side-stepped the blow from his opponent

would be a more specific version of

The boxer evaded the blow from his opponent

because if you simply say "evaded" he could have ducked, stepped back out of range, etc.

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Evading is escaping cleverly which is one method of escaping and sidestep is one method of evading. Does my perception correct? –  Hanu Dec 21 '12 at 15:42

Jim's comment gives a good example of the difference between sidestep and evade. In the case of sidestep, it implies that some active action was taken to avoid incoming fire.

If the politician was asked a question about the riots and then changed the topic or replied with some non-sequitur statement, then he has sidestepped (and also evaded) the question (also applicable to 'no comment' replies).

However, if he just focused on different issues and successfully distracted the audience so that the topic of riots never came up, then he evaded it entirely and did not have to sidestep (the threat/attack did not appear at all).

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