Printable Version
Pronunciation: pree--rê-kayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive (no objects)

Meaning: To avoid the truth, to equivocate, to be intentionally misleading by making up a false account, to lie cagily or elaborately.

Notes: It is difficult to call someone a liar; that is such a harsh word. It is also an identical homonym with the other lie "to be in or move into a prone position". "Brett is lying on the sofa" is ambiguous between indicating that Brett is in a prone position or that he is misleading people from his perch on the couch. So, if you need a longer word, an unambiguous word, a less offensive word, prevaricate is at your service. The noun is prevarication and anyone who engages in prevarication, a very prevaricative activity, is a prevaricator.

In Play: You might think that prevaricate is class-determined: you and I merely lie, but pop-stars, politicians, pundits and panjandra prevaricate: "It is amazing how agilely and casually business, religious, and political leaders navigate in a world of pretense and prevarication." If you prefer to treat this word more democratically, we can apply it to everyone, beginning at an early age: "Mom, Eileen is prevaricating again: she just told dad that I pulled her hair and I only very lightly brushed against it."

Word History: This Good Word, referring to people who do not talk straight originated as a word referring to people who do not walk straight. It comes from prevaricatus, the past participle of the Latin verb prevaricari "to walk crooked", made up of pre- "before, ahead" + varicare "to straddle". If you get bent out of shape when people prevaricate, maybe this is why: varicare comes from varicus "straddling", an adjective from varus "bent, bow-legged or knock-kneed". (I will not prevaricate: it was our old friend Californian Susan Lister, who suggested we make this slightly twisted word a Good One.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!