Printable Version
Pronunciation: têr-ji-vêr-sayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To equivocate, to be ambivalent or indecisive. 2. To reverse position, to apostatize, to go over to the other side.

Notes: The [g] in this word behaves normally in that it is pronounced softly (like [j]) before a vowel pronounced in the front of the mouth, [i]. (The other front vowel is [e], as in gem, geriatric, gesture.) The [r]s are optional for our British and Australian friends. The noun is tergiversation, and a person who equivocates or switches sides is a tergiversator.

In Play: Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina became one of the best-known political tergiversators when he switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party over issues with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Senator Arlen Specter was a Pennsylvania Republican who tergiversated in the opposite direction for reasons of his own. Notice that tergiversation is not a deceitful betrayal but an open switching of positions or parties, "I'm supporting Throckmorton, but if he doesn't give us a bonus this year, I'll tergiversate to those trying to oust him."

Word History: This Good Word comes from Latin tergiversatus, the past participle of tergiversor "to turn one's back, decline or refuse", made up of tergum "back" + versare "to turn." Vers-, the root of versare, goes back to PIE wer-/wor- "turn, bend", found in many words that retain this sense: revert, divert, transverse. But that is it in worm, too, not to mention the Italian version, verme, better known in the name of the pasta that looks like little worms, vermicelli. (Today's Good Word was a suggestion of lexiphile M. Henri Day, who never tergiversates on his fascination for words.)

Dr. Goodword,

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