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I was trying to describe the way someone had spoken, in a succinct way, but struggled to find the correct verb, which was frustrating. Let me explain further...

Event

I'll give an example of the event that happened that I wanted to describe, don't pay too much attention to the details, I am just trying to get the concept across.

John - "Would you mind taking the bins out next week, I'm a little busy"

Mark - " Oh, well I could but actually I think it's best if you do it because yano' you've got a lot more experience taking the bins out and I haven't taken the bins out for a while and I need some time to read up on how to take the bins out and ... "

If I haven't made it clear, Mark is speaking in an indirect way about avoiding taking on responsibility and continues to justify why he shouldn't do it and why John should.

Recall of Event

When trying to explain Mark's antics, I wanted to say something like the following.

Yeah, I did pose the question to Mark about him taking the bins out, but then he started <Insert Verb> so I decided that I'll just do it.

A few came to mind I was going to say 'Posturing' but that feels wrong and probably is wrong definition-wise. So any help would be appreciated.

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  • 1
    Welcome to ELU.SE! Thank you for a well-written question: we don't get many from new contributors. You're probably right that posturing doesn't fit — your question could be improved even more by including the definitions of the verb so that people don't have to confirm that. Posture is relatively new as a verb, so (as you thought) it could conceivably fit. +1 for this question anyway, and I very rarely say that!
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 12:05
  • Thank you, Andrew. I have updated the text with a link to the definition!
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 12:20
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    @YosefBaskin Hahah indeed, unfortunately I was in a professional context.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 16:25
  • @ermanen Yes wriggling out describe the behaviour very well, I just wondered if there was a single verb that encapsulated it as opposed to a phrasal one.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 16:26
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    We have what I would consider a perfectly idiomatic expression for this, but it's phrasal — not one word: Yeah, I did pose the question to Mark about him taking the bins out, but then he started making excuses, so I decided that I would just do it. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 1:53

10 Answers 10

17

I suggest equivocate, which means to use ambiguous or unclear expressions, usually to mislead or to avoid commitment; to hedge.

Mark is not saying he won't do the job, but he is not saying he will do the job either. You could say he's talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. In other words, his words are open to two or more interpretations, and his motive is to conceal the truth; namely, he does NOT want to do the job.

  • Mark started equivocating, so I decided to do the job.

  • In typical Mark fashion, he started being equivocal, so I decided to do the job.

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  • Thank you for your suggestion. This is the sort of the word I was looking for! It's important that Mark isn't described in a way that suggests he is a liar or trying to be deceitful, just harmlessly speaking in a way to avoid commitment in general with excuses.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 16:35
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One option might be prevaricate - defined in the dictionary as

to avoid telling the truth or saying exactly what you think

it usually means to talk a lot without giving a straight answer; in this example Mark hasn't explicitly said he won't but is also a long way from saying he will, so that fits the definition.

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  • Thank you so much for your suggestion! Yes, that's definitely what I would say Mark is doing, so I'm glad I have made that point clear in the description. The word prevaricate could be applied here, however I think in my situation I wanted something that really stressed the meandering Mark was doing about not taking responsibility, not really that he was lying per se.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 12:22
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    Prevarication isn't lying, it's expressing yourself in a roundabout way so as to avoid telling either a direct lie or the truth. BTW, John would say "Would you mind taking the bins out?" - doing is unnecessary here. Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 14:09
  • You're right. It's just, in the recall event, my intention was not to describe Mark as avoiding truth but rather avoiding responsibility. But you are indeed right that he is prevaricating also. I have amended John's sentence.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 16:31
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If you do not want to use "sidestepping" or "dodging"(good words by themselves), there are other words that can be used.

Paltering (Wiktionary) Prevarication; dishonest bargaining, haggling.

Snowing (Merriam-Webster) to deceive, persuade, or charm glibly.

Gammoning (Wiktionary) To deceive; to lie plausibly to.

Pussyfooting (FARLEX) Informal. To use evasive or deliberately vague language: To act or proceed cautiously or timidly to avoid committing oneself. (Merriam-Webster): to refrain from committing oneself. (Wiktionary) To use euphemistic language or circumlocution.

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  • Thank you for the abundance of alternatives!
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 10:08
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Not a single word, strictly speaking, but you may find this succinct enough:

Weasel out of

chiefly US, informal + usually disapproving
: to avoid doing (something) by being dishonest, by persuading someone in a clever way, etc.

  • She weaseled out of our agreement.
  • He weaseled his way out of helping me with the yard work.

So your statement could be written as:

Yeah, I did pose the question to Mark about him taking the bins out, but then he started weaselling (his way) out of it so I decided that I'll just do it.

As your context is informal, I believe weasel fits well.

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  • Thank you so much for your suggestion. I had thought about this one along with several other phrasal verbs, however I did wonder if there was a single verb that could do the job. But I may have to compromise on that.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 12:27
  • Yes, I am afraid you might have to. Most verbs with this connotation, such as evade, dodge, elude etc., are transitive and therefore require a direct object, which you cannot omit without compromising the quality of your sentence.
    – fev
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 12:58
  • Along the same lines, you could use wormed/worming his way out if it as well.
    – B.Kaatz
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 2:00
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Not quite a single word, but you could say Mark is hemming and hawing, which indicates he is talking in a somewhat disjointed, rambling, or evasive manner because he is unsure of what to say, is trying to avoid saying something, or is trying to buy some time while coming up with a response. Someone who hems and haws gives a longwinded "answer" to a simple yes or no question that often is still not a clear yes or no.

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    I like this one, this seems to capture the indecisive aspect of Mark in the situation, but also his evasion of responsibility.
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 10:09
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The question has been sufficiently answered. However, the adjective noncommittal fits the bill.

Per Merriam-Webster, the word means

giving no clear indication of attitude or feeling

a noncommittal reply

He was noncommittal about how the money would be spent.

From this one could easily arrive at the verb needed for the above scenario: commit.

Again, M-W defines the verb thus

to reveal the views of

refused to commit himself on the issue

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In my workplace we often describe the person as having "slopey shoulders". "I tried to get Mark to do it but he had slopey shoulders".

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  • The analogy presumably being that if someone makes their shoulders slope downwards, whatever burden they are supposed to carry (like the straps of a bag) will fall off.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 20:33
  • @dbmag9 Exactly right.
    – Lefty
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 23:09
  • I really like this one, thank you for your input!
    – Luke
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 10:06
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Parry is a single verb that puts the emphasis on verbal evasion (especially of a question) and it can be done to avoid a responsibility. This figurative sense is a semantic extension from its original usage in swordsmanship and fencing: to ward off or counter a move or attack. The word appears to come from French parez, a command used in fencing lessons.

Here is a good explanation and definition from vocabulary.com:

The word parry means to block or evade a movement, like in fencing, but it can also refer to an evasion that is verbal rather than physical.

(verb) avoid or try to avoid fulfilling, answering, or performing (duties, questions, or issues)

I believe the verb parry captures the nuance for your context compared to its near synonyms and other similar verbs.

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This is more specific to your example than the question title is asking, but what Mark is exhibiting is known as weaponized incompetence (this usually applies to romantic relationships, but can be applied elsewhere too):

Here's how licensed clinical psychologist Holly Schiff, Psy.D., defines the concept: "Weaponized incompetence is when your partner attempts to avoid doing unpleasant tasks by pretending not to be able to do them, doing them poorly, or just being incompetent. This forces you to have to do it by yourself and pick up the slack. Over time, this will create a lot of additional mental baggage and workload, which will cause relationship tension, friction, and stress."

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In addition to the many good answers so far is demur:

Some online dictionaries make this a synonym for "object," for example (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/demur):

to make objection, especially on the grounds of scruples; take exception; object

That is a stronger meaning than what I'm used to. The connotation I'm most familiar with does mean object, but to do it in a subtle way, using ambiguous, self-effacing, or non-committal wording. These two definitions from https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/demur come closer to the meaning I'm used to:

1: to disagree politely with another person's statement or suggestion She suggested that he would win easily, but he demurred, saying he expected the election to be close.

2: to politely refuse to accept a request or suggestion A number of people wanted her to run for governor, but she demurred.

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