Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæt-ê-kree-sis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. The misuse of a word or phrase, such as misusing blatant to mean "flagrant" or mitigate in the sense of "militate". 2. The misuse of a figure of speech, such as a mixed metaphors like 'that's awfully thin gruel for pundits to hang their hats on'.

Notes: This word should be used much more than it is today, given the folks appearing on radio and television these days. The adjective accompanying this word is catachrestic(al) and the adverb, catachrestically. This word is a mass noun that has no plural. If you need a plural, try malapropism.

In Play: Rather than use this word in our examples, let's try samples of catachresis: "Daisy has been trapped in a bird cage whose wings have been clipped." How about: "I smell a rat, but I will cut him in the bud" or, "Phil Anders is a wolf in cheap clothing." Some single-word instances of catachresis are wending their way into the language, such as flounder for founder, flout for flaunt, and reticent for reluctant.

Word History: Today's Good Word is the Latin version of a word borrowed from Greek katakhresis, from katakhresthai "misuse", from kata- "down, wrong" + khresthai "to lack, want, use". Kata "down(ward), through" comes from Proto-Indo-European kat- "down, with", that appears in many English borrowings: cataclysm, catastrophe, and catacomb. Khresthai comes from PIE gher-/ghre- "to like, want", which came to English through its Germanic ancestors as yearn and greedy, from Old English grædig "hungry". (Let's try to avoid catachresis in thanking Tony Bowden of London for recommending today's topical Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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