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その政治家は曖昧な言い方をして問題をごまかした。
The politician spoke in a vague way and misrepresented the problem.
The politician spoke in a vague way and glossed over/dodged the problem.

I'm trying to understand the verb ごまかす. My two translations of the above sentence have quite different meanings. Are they both accurate? Is one more likely than the other (there is no further context)? Is there a way of thinking that unifies the translations?

Edit:

In the link given by @sundowner there is the sentence/translation:

返事をごまかす
evade a question

The object is the opposite of the one in 問題をごまかす which @aguijonazo says is unnatural.

In English, 'evade the question' is natural but 'evade the answer' sounds wrong. Do we have the same situation in Japanese, but the opposite way round?

I think I'm now even more confused since I could translate 返事をごまかす as "misrepresent the answer", which would again have quite a different meaning from "evade the question".

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    In the particular sentence, speaking vaguely and misrepresenting are generally in conflict, so the 2nd one is the only possibility. My impression is that it depends on objects of ごまかす which defnitions apply.
    – sundowner
    May 7 at 23:21
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    This collocation of 問題をごまかす itself doesn’t sound too natural to me.
    – aguijonazo
    May 8 at 1:17
  • @aguijonazo Duolingo triumphs again. Please see the edit. May 8 at 7:13
  • Well, 問題 in this context doesn’t mean “question”. (It might in Chinese, though.) It is understood as “problem” or "issue" in Japanese.
    – aguijonazo
    May 8 at 7:26

2 Answers 2

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ごまかす (誤魔化す in ateji) refers to an (often poor) attempt to mislead or distract someone (typically the listener) so that they won't realize some fact. The focus is on such an attitude itself, and the verb is commonly used without any object as if it were an intransitive verb.

問題をごまかす can refer to an attempt to hide a problem itself (∼ dodge/gloss over), but it can also refer to an attempt to hide some aspect of an already confirmed problem (∼ misrepresent). I don't know which is the more common translation; it depends on the context. Either way, the speaker is trying not to deal with the problem head-on.

For example, suppose you are writing a math paper and have noticed some part of your proof is not perfect. If you "問題をごまかして投稿した", that probably refers to the act of hiding the issue itself, and if you "問題をごまかして返答した" after the reviewers pointed it out, that would be closer to misrepresentation.

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Are they both accurate?

No. The former means that someone lies about the problem, so doesn't suit for ごまかす. This word doesn't always involve an evil intention. It's often used when someone has no idea about the issue.

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    While I agree "to misrepresent" in most cases indicates intent, "unintentional misrepresentation" is possible too and is different from <> "to gloss over" ≒ "to dodge".
    – Eddie Kal
    May 7 at 22:13

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