Ambiguity, Equivocation, Tergiversation and Double entendre are comparable when they denote expression or, more often, an expression, capable of more than one interpretation.
Ambiguity is referable to an expression that admits of two or sometimes more interpretations; commonly, however, it suggests the use of a word or phrase rather than a construction that may be taken in either of two senses.
- where no ambiguity arises, the word polygon may be used to refer either to the broken line, or to the part of the plane enclosed by it
—R. R. Smith
Ambiguity does not in itself suggest intentional lack of explicitness; when that idea is to be conveyed or when an attempt to mislead or an indifference to accuracy in statement is to be suggested, equivocation is the preferable word.
- the first cardinal sin from the logician’s standpoint is equivocation. Thus Hobbes has declared that “in all discourses wherein one man pretends to instruct or convince another, he should use the same word constantly in the same sense”
- equivocation is halfway to lying
But equivocation may imply that the writer or speaker is himself confused. Tergiversation stresses a shifting of senses, especially of a word or words important to an argument. It implies evasion and looseness of thought; more specifically it connotes intentional subterfuge and often a low standard of intellectual honesty.
- humanism depends very heavily, I believe, upon the tergiversations of the word human; and in general, upon implying clear and distinct philosophic ideas which are never there
—T. S. Eliot
Double entendre designates an ambiguity which invites or allows a twofold meaning, one sense being a cover for a subtle implication, especially a stinging or an indelicate implication.
- sometimes with these parliamentary comedies, the humor lay in a kind of double entendre, using the phrase in an innocent sense
- bedroom farce with many of the double entendre s . . . that go with that form of entertainment