I have yet another question about the verb "deviate". Suppose there is a plan, and part of the plan includes uttering the prepared text "do no evil". If I write the following sentence:

He deviated from the prepared text of the plan.

Could it be ambiguous, because it could mean either 1) he did not utter the prepared text "do no evil" exactly, or 2) he committed evil (in violation of the prepared text "do no evil")?

4 Answers 4


It is ambiguous to me, but not in the way you describe. I read the prepared text of the plan as meaning "the whole plan (it was a written plan)".

If you said:

He deviated from the prepared text in the plan.

Then I would read it that he spoke some different words.

The plan, as far as I am aware of it, contains nothing about avoiding evil actions, only about speaking a pattern of words. If the plan says nothing about doing evil actions, deviating from the plan also says nothing about doing evil actions.

NB. "uttering a prepared text" sounds very weird to me; one doesn't 'speak a text', one 'reads a speech', 'speaks these words: {...}', 'recites this phrase', etc.

  • As an aside, his use of "utter the perpared text" sound just fine to me - it actually sounds somewhat formal, but it fits the idea of the thought well. Jun 29, 2015 at 18:52
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    It sounds weird twice - uttering something makes the plan sound like a medieval secret society initiation or something from Harry Potter, and it's redundant to describe some text as 'prepared text' ... you can see it's text, and it has to have been prepared because it's not blank. It's like having a step in a plan: "be the causal agent in the prepared action sequence: open the door". Just open the door. Say "do no evil". (But it's not confusing, so if @meatie wants to write it that way, I'm not saying it's incorrect) Jun 29, 2015 at 19:05

You have made a typographical error on a critical piece of contextual information.

Suppose there is a plan, and part of the plan including [sic] uttering the prepared text "do no evil".

The word "including" should be "includes".

To "deviate from the prepared text of the plan" would normally be understood to mean to say something other than 'do no evil', such as "don't do harm to others".

In other words, the text was not delivered verbatim. When a politician, say, deviates from the prepared text of a speech, the politician is extemporizing.

It's possible that "deviated" could encompass something completely unrelated, such as Eat more chicken. But that is not how the statement is likely to be understood. The deviant version would usually resemble the planned version, more or less.


That sentence means that he did something different than was expected of the plan. As it stands, "the prepared text of the plan" sounds like a common metaphor, not as in he didn't read what he was supposed to. Restating the sentence: He did something different than was included within the exact written text of the plan, but what he did followed the spirit or the idea behind the plan.

The verb deviated quite often is used in this sort of context so you must be careful when it is used. If you wanted to say that he didn't read what he was supposed to read, you could use the simple: He did not read from the prepared text.


I believe the correct answer here would be to combine TesselatingHector and MichaelDorgan.

  1. The phrase, "the text of the plan" would normally be understood to mean the plan as written, not specifically text that one is supposed to say or write as part of the plan. So "deviated from the text of the plan" would basically mean the same as "deviated from the plan". Maybe, as MichaelDorgan says, "deviate from the text" would be understood to mean deviating from the letter while keeping the spirit. But I wouldn't take that interpretation as a given.

  2. If you wanted to indicate that he spoke or wrote or printed different words from words called for in the plan, yes, as TesselatingHector says, you probably should say "deviated from the text in the plan" rather than "of the plan". I'd probably add more words to make that clear if that was what I meant, like "deviated from the text as given in the plan" or "deviated from the text that the plan specified".

  3. If the plan calls for a person to say certain words, than as long as he says those words, he is presumably following the plan. Like if the plan says that at 9:00 am Mr Jones is supposed to appear on TV news and say, "We encourage all citizens to obey the speed limit", then if he says these words, he is following the plan. If on his way home from the broadcast he breaks the speed limit himself, perhaps he is being a hypocrite, but that has nothing per se to do with the plan. Now, if the plan says, "All members of city council will follow the speed limits to set a good example", and Mr Jones is a member of city council and he doesn't follow the speed limits, THEN he is not following the plan. That is, it all comes down to whether the plan is about saying or doing or what.

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