late 14c., "the fallacy of using a word in different senses at different stages of the reasoning" (a loan-translation of Greek homonymia, literally "having the same name"), from Old French equivocation, from Late Latin aequivocationem (nominative aequivocatio), noun of action from aequivocus "of identical sound, of equal voice, of equal significance, ambiguous, of like sound," past participle of aequivocare, from aequus "equal" (see equal (adj.)) + vocare "to call," which is related to vox (genitive vocis) "voice" (from PIE root *wekw- "to speak").
1590s, from Late Latin aequivocator, agent noun from aequivocare (see equivocation).
"use words of a doubtful signification, express one's opinions in terms which admit of different interpretations," early 15c., equivocaten, from Medieval Latin equivocatus, past participle of equivocare "to call by the same name, be called by the same name, have the same sound," from Late Latin aequivocus "of identical sound" (see equivocation). Related: Equivocated; equivocating.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to speak."
It forms all or part of: advocate; avocation; calliope; convocation; epic; equivocal; equivocation; evoke; invoke; provoke; revoke; univocal; vocabulary; vocal; vocation; vocative; vociferate; vociferous; voice; vouch; vox; vowel.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit vakti "speaks, says," vacas- "word;" Avestan vac- "speak, say;" Greek eipon (aorist) "spoke, said," epos "word;" Latin vocare "to call," vox "voice, sound, utterance, language, word;" Old Prussian wackis "cry;" German er-wähnen "to mention."
turning dishonestly from a straightforward action or statement; shifting, shuffling, equivocation, 1560s, from Latin tergiversationem (nominative tergiversatio) "a shifting, evasion, declining, refusing," noun of action from past-participle stem of tergiversari "turn one's back on, evade," from tergum "the back" (a word of unknown origin) + versare "to spin, turn," frequentative of vertere "to turn" (from PIE root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend").
1596, in reference to the famous London prison, on the site of one of the seven gates in the old London wall (the main gate to the west); this one having been used as a lock-up since the 1100s. So called because it was thought to be more recent than the others (but it apparently dated to Roman times) or because it had been rebuilt at some point. The gate was demolished in the 18c.; the last prison of that name was torn down 1902-3.
Newgate frill, "a beard shaved so as to grow only under the chin and jaw," so called in allusion to the position of the hangman's noose, is by 1851. The author of "The Habits of Good Society" (1859) calls it "a kind of compromise between the beard and the razor."
Both Coleridge and Ruskin praised Thomas Hood's Newgatory.
Hood was addressing the admirable Mrs. Fry, who, as every one knows, set up a school in Newgate to teach the poor neglected outcasts what they had never heard from Christian lips before. One of the chief points made by Hood is this,—how much better, kinder, wiser, more politic even, it would be to multiply these schools outside, not inside the Prison walls, so that prevention might take the place of cure. [Alfred Ainger, preface to "Humorous Poems by Thomas Hood"]
As a literary study, this exquisite pun of Hood's ... deserves the most careful memory, as showing what a noble and instructive lesson even a pun may become, when it is deep in its purpose, and founded on a truth which is perfectly illustrated by the seeming equivocation. [Ruskin, "Fors Clavigera"]
"a Conceit arising from the use of two Words that agree in the Sound, but differ in the Sense" [Addison]; "An expression in which the use of a word in two different applications, or the use of two different words pronounced alike or nearly alike, presents an odd or ludicrous idea" [Century Dictionary]; 1660s (first attested in Dryden), a word of uncertain origin.
Perhaps from pundigron, meaning the same thing (though attested first a few years later), itself a word of uncertain etymology, perhaps a humorous alteration of Italian puntiglio "equivocation, trivial objection," diminutive of Latin punctum "point." This is pure speculation. Punnet was another early form.
Pun was prob. one of the clipped words, such as cit, mob, nob, snob, which came into fashionable slang at or after the Restoration. [OED]
The verb, "to make puns," also is attested from 1660s, first in Dryden. Related: Punned; punning.
At the revival of learning, and the spread of what we may term the refinement of society, punning was one of the few accomplishments at which the fine ladies and gentlemen aimed. From the twelfth to the sixteenth century, it was at its greatest height. The conversation of the witty gallants, and ladies, and even of the clowns and other inferior characters, in the comedies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, which we may be sure was painted from the life, is full of puns and plays upon words. The unavoidable result of such an excess was a surfeit, and the consequent dégout, which lasted for more than a century. Like other diseases, it broke out again subsequently with redoubled virulence, and made great havoc in the reign of Queen Anne. [Larwood & Hotten, "The History of Signboards from the Earliest Times to the Present Day," London, 1867]