As the title says: I'm looking for a single verb to describe the act of making a statement that is consciously left open to interpretation, with the purpose of instilling a certain interpretation within some people, while at the same time maintaining plausible deniability for that interpretation to others.

It's something politicians and other public figures tend to be good at. The direct motivation for me asking is that the act was recently covered in the satirical late-night show Last Week Tonight in a segment on Ivanka Drumpf. However, no term for it was mentioned.

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    How would you like to use this verb? An adjective to describe this would be ambiguous, or it can be used as the adverb ambiguously.
    – SteveES
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 10:44
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    How about equivocate? Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 11:05
  • @StoneyB: now there is a word I didn't know! It comes amazingly close to what I had in mind. If you'd be so kind to post it as an answer, I'll accept it as one.
    – Mr.H
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 14:44
  • @SteveES: I'd like it to be used as simple as possible; like "You're walking" I'd like to be able to say: "You're...". My main reason for asking was that I had hopes for a single word acknowledging the existence of this phenomenon. While "You're equivocating!" isn't as easily said as I had liked, it seems to mean pretty much what I had in mind.
    – Mr.H
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 14:49
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    @SteveES Ambiguity lies at the root sense of equivocate: etymologically it's "same-voice". M-W defines equivocate as "to use equivocal language especially with intent to deceive", and gives the primary sense of equivocal as "subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse". Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 16:28

1 Answer 1


When we imply something, we are doing exactly what you said: making a statement that is consciously left open to interpretation.

As for the part about "maintaining plausible deniability," you just have to remember:

We imply while others infer.

What I mean is that because we leave things "open to interpretation," it's possible for things to be interpreted in a way that we had not intended (as many politicians, celebrities and other people of interest may often attest to).

Or perhaps, it is possible for things to be interpreted as intended, but vehemently denied (as in your example).

Or perhaps, not denied, as in the example below:

We implied; you inferred.

Imply: indicate the truth or existence of (something) by suggestion rather than explicit reference

  • "salesmen who use jargon to imply superior knowledge"

Infer: deduce or conclude (something) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements

  • "from these facts we can infer that crime has been increasing"


And a funny alternative:

What are you insinuating?!?!

  • @ColleenV, thanks for editing my image sizes! How did you do it? Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 11:57
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    There are some tips on meta in the Formatting Sandbox post ell.meta.stackexchange.com/a/3318 If you append an 'm' to the Imgur filename before the '.jpg' or other extension, it displays the medium thumbnail. The full size image is still available just by removing the 'm' so you can make clicking on the thumbnail display the full image. It's a pretty nice feature!
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 14:55
  • Thanks for your fun explanations! I was looking for a subtle kind of implying/inferring, a kind with the goal of not only suggesting something without actually saying it, but to steer (a group of) people into putting words into your mouth (be it specific words, or words in a general direction) that you don't want to be held accountable for, while their believe of you saying it plays out pretty well for you in the mean time.
    – Mr.H
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 15:02
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    Hi, @TeacherKSHuang. Really do appreciate the answer, but imply nor insinuate are exactly what I was looking for.
    – Mr.H
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 5:58
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    No problem. Really enjoyed your answer. :) I ended up going for equivocating and equivocal, fully aware that these will probably not be understood by the layman.
    – Mr.H
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 10:33

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