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Equivocation

(also known as: doublespeak)

Description: Using an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading.

Logical Form:

Term X is used to mean Y in the premise.
Term X is used to mean Z in the conclusion.

Example #1:

I want to have myself a merry little Christmas, but I refuse to do as the song suggests and make the yuletide gay.  I don't think sexual preference should have anything to do with enjoying the holiday.

Explanation: The word, “gay” is meant to be in light spirits, joyful, and merry, not in the homosexual sense.

Example #2:

The priest told me I should have faith.
I have faith that my son will do well in school this year.
Therefore, the priest should be happy with me.

Explanation: The term “faith” used by the priest, was in the religious sense of believing in God without sufficient evidence, which is different from having “faith” in your son in which years of good past performance leads to the “faith” you might have in your son.

Exception: Equivocation works great when deliberate attempts at humor are being made.

Tip: When you suspect equivocation, substitute the word with the same definition for all uses and see if it makes sense.

References:

Parry, W. T., & Hacker, E. A. (n.d.). Aristotelian Logic. SUNY Press.

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