Difference between “prevaricate” and “procrastinate”

Both words have a lot of things in common. They begin with the letter “p”, end with the suffix “ate”, and contain the same number of syllables — four. Perhaps this explains why some people wrongly use the two words as synonyms. The words have very different meanings. When you “prevaricate” you avoid telling the truth; you are evasive. As kids, when we failed to do our homework and our teacher asked us why, we never gave her the real reason. Most of the time we made no attempt to answer her question directly — we prevaricated. The word comes from the Latin “praevaricari” meaning, “Go crookedly.” Politicians and lawyers are very good at evading the truth, aren’t they?

*Rani, give me a straight answer. Do not prevaricate.

“Procrastinate”, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the truth. When we “procrastinate”, we delay doing something. Indians are born procrastinators; things never get done on time in our country. Whenever we are given something to do, we keep putting it off to another day.

*No more procrastination. I want this to be done by tomorrow.

Both words have the main stress on the second syllable, and both are used in formal contexts.

S. UPENDRAN,  The Hindu- ‘Know Your English’ Series, Feb 21, 2005


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