Misnomer  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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".

Contents

Sources of misnomers

Some of the sources of misnomers are:

  • An older name being retained as the thing named evolved (e.g. pencil lead, 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.
  • 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).
  • An older name being retained even in the face of newer information (e.g. Chinese checkers, Arabic numerals).
  • 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.
  • A name being based on a similarity in a particular aspect (e.g., "shooting stars" look like falling stars but are actually meteors).
  • A difference between popular and technical meanings of a term. For example, a koala "bear" (see below) looks and acts much like a bear, but in actuality, it is quite distinct and unrelated. Similarly, fireflies fly like flies, and ladybugs look and act like bugs. Botanically, peanuts are not true nuts, even though they look and taste like nuts. The technical sense is often cited as the "correct" sense, but this is a matter of context.
  • Ambiguity (e.g. a parkway is generally a road with park-like landscaping, not a place to park). Such a term may confuse those unfamiliar.
  • 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.
  • Naming peculiar to the originator's world view.
  • An unfamiliar name (generally foreign) or technical term being re-analyzed as something more familiar.
  • Anachronisms, terms being applied to things that belong to another time, especially much later.
  • An attempt to mislead people. Greenland, which is not green, was so named for the purpose of attracting settlers there.


Older name retained

  • The "lead" in pencils is made of graphite and clay, not lead; graphite was originally believed to be lead ore, but this is now known not to be the case. The graphite and clay mix is known as plumbago, meaning "lead ore" in Latin, and is still known as "black lead" in Keswick, Cumbria and elsewhere.
  • Blackboards can be black, green, red or blue. And the sticks of chalk are no longer made of chalk, but of gypsum.
  • Tin foil is almost always actually aluminum, whereas "tin cans" made for the storage of food products are made from steel plated in a thin layer of tin. In both cases, tin was the original metal.
  • Telephone numbers are usually referred to as being "dialed" although rotary phones are now rare.
  • When a computer program is electronically transferred from disk to memory, this is referred to as loading the program. "Load" is a holdover term from the mid-20th century, when programs were created on punched cards and then loaded into a hopper for automated processing.
  • In golf, the clubs commonly referred to as woods are usually made of metal. The club heads for "woods" were formerly made predominantly of wood.

Similarity of appearance

Difference between common and technical meanings

Association with place other than one might assume

Reanalysis

  • In logic, begging the question is a type of fallacy occurring in deductive reasoning in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises. However, more recently, "begs the question" has been used as a synonym for "raises the question".
  • A quantum leap is properly an instantaneous change, which may be either large or small. In physics, it is the smallest possible changes that are of particular interest. In vernacular usage, however, the term is often taken to imply an abrupt large change.

Other

  • While dry cleaning does not involve water, the process does involve the use of liquid solvents.
  • The "funny bone" is not a bone—the phrase refers to the ulnar nerve.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Misnomer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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