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I am learning English and when reading the definition of "temporize" from the New Oxford American Dictionary, I find hard to understand the meaning.

It says:

verb 1 [ no obj. ] avoid making a decision or committing oneself in order to gain time

I am confused because there seems to be two ways to understand this. First, it is by "making a decision or committing oneself" that someone aims to "gain time". Or, it is by " avoid making a decision or committing oneself" that one "gain[s] time".

Could someone please solve my confusion?

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  • You gain time by avoiding making a decision. You could understand the sentence the other way as well, but that wouldn’t make much sense in most commonly occurring situations. If you stall for time, wait as long as you can to make a decision, you’re basically always buying yourself more time; but I can’t think of any normally occurring situation where committing yourself to something would help you gain any time. Jul 22, 2015 at 15:26
  • Also note that temporise is quite rare. It’s not a commonly used word. A word that means a fairly similar thing is procrastinate, which has been more common than temporise for the past 45 years or so. Jul 22, 2015 at 15:28

3 Answers 3

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Making a decision and committing oneself seem to be used as synonyms here, so I think the intended interpretation was as thus: "To avoid making a decision or committing oneself. This is done in order to gain time."

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verb 1 [ no obj. ] avoid making a decision or committing oneself in order to gain time.

Well, I'm not subscribed, so can't read the original, but I'll hazard that the Blessed Dictionary is erroneous if the definition is as above. You are quite right about the ambiguity (even if the meaning's probably obvious, as Janus says). Anyway, I think there should be a comma in the definition as follows:

verb 1 [ no obj. ] avoid making a decision or committing oneself, in order to gain time.

There, what do you think?

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To temporize is to gain additional time by avoiding making a decision, stalling, or avoiding committing oneself.

Given the sentence, I can see where the ambiguity lies. It is similar to procrastinate in meaning:

pro·cras·ti·nate (prəˈkrastəˌnāt) verb (used without object), procrastinated, procrastinating. 1. to defer action; delay: to procrastinate until an opportunity is lost. verb (used with object), procrastinated, procrastinating.

2. to put off till another day or time; defer; delay.

The word has continued to fall out of use.

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