Misnomer

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Origin

late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French, from the Old French verb mesnommer, from mes- ‘wrongly’ + nommer ‘to name’ (based on Latin nomen ‘name’).

Definitions

  • 1:a wrong or inaccurate name or designation: “king crab” is a misnomer—these creatures are not crustaceans at all.
  • 2:a wrong or inaccurate use of a name or term: to call this “neighborhood policing” would be a misnomer.

Description

A misnomer is a word or term that suggests a meaning that is known to be wrong. Misnomers often arise because the thing named received its name long before its true nature was known. A misnomer may also be simply a word that is used incorrectly or misleadingly. "Misnomer" does not mean "misunderstanding" or "popular misconception".

  • Some misnomers are:
  1. A quantum leap is properly an instantaneous change which may be either large or small. In physics, it is the smallest possible change that is of particular interest. In common usage, however, the term is often taken to mean a large, abrupt change.
  2. An older name being retained after the thing named has changed (e.g. tin can, fixed income market, mince meat pie, steamroller, tin foil, clothes iron, digital darkroom). This is essentially a metaphorical extension with the older item standing for anything filling its role.
  3. Transference of a well-known product brand name into a genericized trademark (e.g., Xerox for photocopy, Kleenex for tissue or Jell-o for gelatin dessert).
  4. An older name being retained even in the face of newer information (e.g., Chinese checkers, Arabic numerals).
  5. Pars pro toto, or a name being applied to something which only covers part of a region. The name Holland is often used to refer to the Netherlands while it only designates a part of that country; sometimes people refer to the suburbs of a metropolis with the name of the biggest city in the metropolis.
  6. A name being based on a similarity in a particular aspect (e.g., "shooting stars" look like falling stars but are actually meteors).
  7. Association of a thing with a place other than one might assume. For example, Panama hats are made in Ecuador, but came to be associated with the building of the Panama Canal.