Tergiversation, thy name is politics

The verb tergiversar/tergiversate means ‘to shift, practice evasion, use subterfuges.’ While I needn’t say more about the title of this post, I do need to talk about the origin of the verb. We’ve borrowed it from Latin tergiversari, a compound of tergum ‘back’ and versare ‘to turn, twist, whirl about,’ so that the Latin verb meant oridinally ‘ to turn one’s back’ and therefore ‘to decline, refuse, make difficulties, shuffle, shift, evade.’ My old Latin dictionary notes that Cicero was fond of the word but that other Roman writers seldom used it. The verb tergiversar/tergiversate and the noun tergiversación/tergiversation aren’t common today, either, but what they describe is, alas. And speaking of describing, biologists have borrowed the original Latin tergum to designate, in the words of the American Heritage Dictionary, ‘the upper or dorsal surface, especially of a body segment of an insect or other arthropod.’

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 08:05:46

    That’s an odd word and hard for me to say. I doubt if I will be using it today. I will try.


  2. kathryningrid
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 22:40:12

    You are indeed a versatile man.


  3. shoreacres
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 22:44:10

    I can’t help wondering if tergiversation is, in some cases, a form of perseveration. It could explain a good bit.

    “Tergiversate” is such a great word. I feel off-balance when I say it. It doesn’t flow at all, making saying it feel like what it means.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Nov 25, 2013 @ 23:18:06

      I find both verbs off-balancing. I’ve never seen or heard anyone use tergiversate (though I’ve encountered a great many instances of the action itself), and I think only someone in the social sciences would persevere in extending persevere into perseverate.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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