's Blog

Good Words Gone Bad

Posted by on 01/24/2011 at 03:28 PM

Sometimes, even good words go bad with incorrect usage.  For example, take the word "prevaricate," which means "to fib" as in lie through your teeth.  But it has been misused in at least funny and sometimes grave ways.  See the whole pinata.  Wait, make that enchilada, below, taken from today's Word Tip of the Day by Bryan Garner.  You can subscribe to Garner's daily email at: 

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Prevaricate.

"Prevaricate" = to avoid telling the truth, esp. by equivocating; to lie -- e.g.: "Impressed by Maggie's brashness and her amazing ability to lie on a dime and prevaricate at will, Kaz installs her in their guest house." Michael Wilmington, "Ugly Duckling Tale Doesn't Lay an Egg, but Never Takes Flight," Chicago Trib., 8 June 2007, Movies §, at 5.Oddly, the word is sometimes confounded with "procrastinate," especially in British English -- e.g.: "'I never make art in the studio,' says [Cornelia] Parker. 'I make it in the space. That way, you have to make very good, quick decisions. You can't prevaricate [read 'procrastinate']. You just have to get on with it.'" Geoff Edgers, Boston Globe, 6 Dec. 2006, at K14. Occasionally, it's hard to decipher what the writer intended -- e.g.: "There is certainly no other evidence from any source that Einstein was ever romantically interested in this young woman, whose mother he eventually married and who thus became his beloved stepdaughter. But the author prevaricates [read 'waffles'? 'doesn't elaborate'?], leaving the reader with the hint that perhaps there was more to this letter." Amir D. Aczel, "Eternal Einstein," Boston Globe, 15 Apr. 2007, at D5. Whatever the meaning, surely there is no suggestion here that the author evaded the truth.