They're still vacillating?

OK, this happened when I was talking to business owner in York, UK. I wanted to to use of the words I learned through Executive Vocabulary and at some point said “They’are still vacillating.” (Which was supposed to mean something like “They still pondering their options./They haven’t made up their minds yet.”) Now, the guy gave me a strange look and his smile seemed to be saying “Look, I don’t know whom you are trying to impress but I don’t know what you are on about.”

So, how would you have reacted if I had told you that somebody was still vacillating?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A moving truck[YSaerTTEW443543]

I would have thought, “This dude has a good vocabulary.”

If I were a Brit, I might have thought, “This chap has a bloody cracking vocabulary.”

If I were a Californian, I might have thought, “Right on. Way cool. This dude is righteous.”

And what would you have thought if you were a guy from Nashville?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A train[YSaerTTEW443543]

“This dude has a good vocabulary.”

if i were feeling snobbish, I’d have thought, “This person has an outstanding grasp of English… with a veritable cornucopia of words in his arsenal.”

Hi Torsten

To me the word vacillating implies a little more than just pondering options prior to making a decision. It implies that a decision had actually been made (probably more than once) and then the person changed his or her mind and went back to being undecided again.


If the British person gave you a weird look at having heard you use “vacillating”… chances are he simply doesn’t know what the word means.

I’ve never heard the word (:)) but having read several dictionaries definitions and examples, I’d say that in some contexts vacillating means indecisive (even ‘weak-kneed’ :)) – as a feature of character.

Hi Torsten,

It’s difficult to imagine why anyone should smile on hearing the word ‘vacillate’ without knowing the exact context in which your conversation took place. That said, it is certainly to me a perfectly respectable word. Perhaps when he smiled, you could have added: and of course when I say vacillate, I am talking about dithering. And that would have wiped the smile off his face!



Sink or swim? I simply cannot decide!


‘They’re still vacillating’ is not a very common construction by any means, but there is nothing objectionable about it and it does not mean that the speaker is being pretentious. To ‘vacillate’ doesn’t merely mean not reaching a decision, but rather deciding one way, then another, then another, then another without coming to a firm resolution. It generally, although not neccessarily, implies a rather weak-willed indecisiveness.

I’d have thought it sounds like a literal translation from the Spanish verb for ‘hesitate’. ‘Vacillate’ also brings the image of a flickering flame, but this comes from one of its French definitions.

If you want to be less conspicuous next time, Torsten, perhaps you should just use ‘waver’ or ‘hesitate’. On the other hand, why not throw in a fancy word or two from time to time, if you feel like it – there are enough detractors of sophisticated words as it is. :roll:

Damn … I’m afraid I missed the point of the question. To reply to what you actually asked, I would have understood exactly what you meant your particular choice of word wouldn’t have struck me at all.


I concur.