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A misnomer is a name that is incorrectly applied to a thing. Misnomers often arise because something was named long before its correct nature was known, or because an earlier form of something has been replaced by something to which the name no longer applies. A misnomer may also be simply a word that someone uses incorrectly or misleadingly.

(2019). 9780195382754, Oxford University Press.
The word "misnomer" does not mean "" or "popular misconception", and a number of misnomers remain in  — which is to say that a word being a misnomer does not necessarily make usage of the word incorrect.


Sources of misnomers
Some of the sources of misnomers are:

  • An older name being retained after the thing named has changed (e.g., , mince meat pie, , , , ). 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., for , for , or for ).
  • An older name being retained even in the face of newer information (e.g. ).
  • Pars pro toto, or a name applied to something that covers only part of a region. People often use to mean the , while it only designates a part of that country.
  • Sometimes people refer to the suburbs of a 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 ).
  • A difference between popular and technical meanings of a term. For example, a "bear" (see below) superficially looks and acts like a , but is quite distinct and unrelated. Similarly, fly like , and look and act like . Botanically, are not 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 is generally a with park-like landscaping, not a place to park). Such a term may confuse those unfamiliar with the language, dialect and/or word.
  • Association of a thing with a place other than one might assume. For example, originate from , but came to be associated with the building of the .
  • Naming particular to the originator's world view.
  • An unfamiliar name (generally foreign) or technical term being re-analyzed as something more familiar (see ).
  • , terms being applied to things that belong to another time, especially much later.


Examples

Older name retained
  • The "lead" in is made of and , not ; graphite was originally believed to be lead , 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.
  • can be black, green, red, blue, or brown. And the sticks of chalk are no longer made of , but of .
  • is almost always , whereas "" made for the storage of food products are made from steel with a thin . In both cases, tin was the original metal.
  • Telephone numbers are usually referred to as being "dialed" although are now rare.
  • In , the clubs commonly referred to as woods are usually made of metal. The club heads for "woods" were formerly made predominantly of wood.

The term anachronym (note well -chron-) as defined in Garner's Modern English Usage refers to this type of misnomer. Examples cited by Garner include the persistence of the word dial in its telephoning sense after the era and the persistence of the term tin foil in the aluminum foil era. Anachronyms should not be confused with anacronyms (note well -acro-), which are words such as and that have acronymic origin but are generally no longer treated like conventional acronyms (that is, they are used syntactically like any other words, without obligate reference to their original expansions).


Similarity of appearance


Difference between common and technical meanings
  • "bears" are not closely related to the family, Ursidae. The name "koala" is preferred in Australia, where koalas are native, but the term "koala bear" is still in use today outside of Australia.
  • and are not even closely related to (although jellyfish do have a gelatinous structure similar to ).
  • A is not a nut in the botanical sense, but rather a . Similarly, a is not a botanical nut but a .
  • Several fruit that are not berries include , , , and .


Association with place other than that which one may assume


Other
  • Although does not involve water, it does involve the use of liquid solvents.
  • The "funny bone" is not a —the phrase refers to the .
  • A quantum leap is properly an "instantaneous change" that may be either large or small. In 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.
  • "" (formally lateral epicondylitis) does not necessarily result from playing tennis, nor as a result of any other repetitive strain injury.

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