- The act of abandoning something or someone, of changing sides; desertion.
- The act of evading any clear course of action or speech, or being deliberately ambiguous; equivocation.
“The spy was actually a double agent who completed his tergiversation as soon as he finished the mission.”
“My father jokingly told me it was the ultimate act of tergiversation if I didn’t attend his alma mater next year.”
“I can’t decide if I want to go on the group trip, so I need to keep up the tergiversation until I make up my mind.”
Latin, mid-16th century
Why this word?
“Tergiversation” has a few elements at play in its etymology. The verb “tergiversate” was recorded in English around the mid-17th century, but the noun form was in use a century before. In Latin, the root “tergiversat-” described something done “with one’s back turned,” from the verb “tergiversari.” That word was created from the Latin terms “tergum” (“back”) and “vertere” (“to turn”). The ancient Romans might have used “tergiversari” in a more literal body-turning sense, but by the time the noun “tergiversation” was in English, it was used for metaphorical back-turning, or betrayal. Even when it isn’t quite so dramatic as desertion, tergiversation can still be waffling back and forth or acting deliberately ambiguous instead of choosing a clear side.
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