Trivium Pursuit

Equivocation and Contest Time

Lord willing, we want to start producing audio and video podcasts. We’ll start small with some short audio podcasts dramatizing common fallacies. But we need your help. In the comment section here, please post your favorite example of an equivocation. If we use your example in our podcast, we’ll send you a free book. Be sure to include your name and email address.

The fallacy of equivocation occurs when somebody changes the meaning of a word in the middle of an argument. Here is a humorous example of equivocation.

Dorothy: “Are you doing that on purpose, or can’t you make up your mind?”
Scarecrow: “That’s the trouble. I can’t make up my mind. I haven’t got a brain. Just straw.”
Dorothy: “How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?”
Scarecrow: “I don’t know. But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
Dorothy: “Yes, I guess you’re right.”

The Scarecrow is changing the meaning of “brain.” First, he is talking about someone who lacks a physical organ called a brain, and then he is talking about somebody who lacks wisdom or sense.

“Everyone knows that laws change all the time. Prohibition was repealed after only a few years. Laws against criticizing the president were repealed. You see, the laws of thermodynamics, which say that it is impossible to make a true perpetual motion machine, can easily change, just like prohibition. My company is attempting to build a perpetual motion machine. I encourage you to invest in it.”

This argument may sound convincing, until you look closely. The speaker first refers to law as a piece of legislation which is made by the government — such as the Constitution, or a speed limit ordinance. Then, he refers to law as a natural law, something which we see in nature which never changes — such as the laws of gravity and other scientific laws. (Taken from The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn)

7 Responses to “Equivocation and Contest Time”

  1. JenIG Says:

    I think everybody is afraid to enter your contest. Ok, i will have a crack at it.
    I’m framing this as an ad in a magazine:

    Are you always having a cow about the little things in life? I shant tell you *not* to have a cow, because sometimes something will happen and you’ll just have a cow — it’s inevitable. So GloryCow is here to help. We sell top rate, sterile, home-birth equipment so you can have a cow safely and comfortably at home. *Milking equipment sold separately.

    There. How’s that? Look, if you’re going to open these things up to the public then you need to be prepared for non-IQ participants.

  2. Trivium Pursuit » Blog Archive » We Need You! Says:

    […] Jenig has submitted an example of the Fallacy of Equivocation (also called Doublespeak or Ambiguity) for our logic contest, but we need more examples. Here are a few to help you get started. […]

  3. Amy Says:

    Okay, here goes. I don’t know if this counts because it isn’t a famous one or anything, but I read your contest last night, and then this morning this happened with my 8 yo.

    Mom: “Agamemnon had twice as many heroes in his army as Hector did. If Hector had 4 heroes, how many heroes did Agamemnon have?”
    -pause-
    Mom: “Now repeat the problem back to me.”
    Son becoming irritated: “What?”
    Mom: “What’s the problem?”
    Son: “Mom, the problem is, I can’t remember what you said.”
    -laughter-

    Amy

  4. George Says:

    All you really need to do is read any Amelia Bedelia book. That said, here’s an example from a poetry book my 13 year old son has called a “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein. It is a famous knock knock joke called, “The Meehoo With an Exactlywatt”:

    Knock, knock!

    Who’s there?

    Me!

    Me who?

    That’s right!

    What’s right?

    Meehoo!

    That’s what I want to know!

    What’s what you want to know?

    Me who?

    Yes, exactly!

    Exactly what?

    Yes, I have an Exactlywatt on a chain!

    Exactly what on a chain?

    Yes!

    Yes what?

    No, Exactlywatt!

    That’s what I want to know!

    I told you – Exactlywatt!

    Exactly what?

    Yes!

    Yes what?

    Yes, it’s with me!

    What’s with you?

    Exactlywatt – that’s what with me.

    Me who?

    Yes!

    Go away!

    Knock, knock…

  5. mistresninos Says:

    An aspirin will make noisy children go away because noisy children are a headache and aspirin makes headaches go away.

  6. bookmoth Says:

    God is love
    Love is blind
    Therefore, God is blind

    Different meanings of “is” and “blind”

    moth

  7. Trivium Pursuit » Blog Archive » Our Very First Podcast Says:

    […] Welcome to our very first Trivium Pursuit podcast. Hans and I will be working on these together — he’ll take care of all the technical parts of the podcast and I’ll do the posting. This first podcast is pretty short and simple — an excerpt from one of our seminars. Let me know if it works for you and don’t forget to enter the Equivocation Contest. […]

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