Printable Version
Pronunciation: æm-bi-vê-lênt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Vacillating between two contraries, unsure as to two conflicting choices. 2. Indecisive, hesitant in resolving some issue.

Notes: Today's word sports two similar nouns, ambivalence or ambivalency. Your choice. Also, be careful not to confuse ambivalent with ambiguous. An ambiguous statement is unclear, imprecise, allowing more than one interpretation. An ambivalent person is torn between two possibilities.

In Play: Ambivalence often entails hesitancy: "King Fischer III was ambivalent about going to war over the mild insult to his dog by the potentate of neighboring Sacristan." However, ambivalence can also be a long-lived, permanent state: "The widely ignored Greek philosopher Hepatitus was ambivalent as to whether society should change or remain the same, but he took a jaundiced view of change directed by the government."

Word History: Following the pattern of equivalent : equivalence, English derived today's Good Word from the borrowed German word Ambivalenz. The Germans created this word from the Latin prefix ambi- "both, about, around", the same prefix we see on ambiguous and ambidextrous, + valentia "vigor", from valen(t)s, the present participle of valere "to be strong". The root of this verb, val- refers to strength, and is found in a litany of words like valor, valid, and value. The same Proto-Indo-European root became wield in English and, in Russian, vlast' "power". Ma vlast, the symphonic poems composed by Bedrich Smetana, means "My country" in Czech. (We can unambivalently thank Mohammad Salah for suggesting today's Good Word in the Alpha Agora.)

Dr. Goodword,

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