|Photo by Ian Gallagher|
Noun. Plural catachreses. Mid-16th century.
[Latin catachresis from Greek katakhresis, from katakhresthai to misuse, formed as CATA- + khresthai use.]
(An instance of) the incorrect use of words.
catachrestic adj. (of a word, etc.) misused, misapplied; of the nature of catachresis M17
catachrestical adj. E17
catachrestically adv. E17
|Catachresis, or just a hilariously original use of language?|
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When I spied catachresis in the OED, my heart literally stopped beating and I died dead in anticipation - here was my chance to rant until my mind's content about the misuse and abuse of words like altercation, refute, chronic and ... yes ... literally. Aaargh! I get as sick as a carrot just thinking about that one. But having done a little research on the interweb, it seems that there is a bally dose of confusion about what even catachresis means, despite the main dictionaries being rather clear on the matter:
Chambers 20th Century
misapplication of a word
the incorrect use of words, as luxuriant for luxurious
(1) use of the wrong word for the context
(2) use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech (as blind mouths)
For example, several sites, including Wikipedia, say that catachresis also means using a word for something, in place of another more correct word or because a specific word for that thing doesn't exist, and a common example is a chair's leg. However, as the OED clearly includes in the definition of leg 'a thing resembling a leg or acting as a support,' it makes me wonder how catachrestic a chair's leg really is, assuming that we accept this rather suspect definition at all (unless it's only catachrestic when someone first says "Hmm. I don't know what that supporty thing on the chair is called. Let's go with leg," but when it becomes established, yes, that too is a leg, and it's no longer catachrestic or only historically catachrestic).
One use of catachrestic that does seem legitimate, however, is that of a forced or paradoxical figure of speech, as specifically defined as such by Merriam-Webster. Thus, if I said I was 'as happy as a corpse', this could be termed catachrestical, or maybe 'silent shouts'. However, what's wonderful about these is that they can be deliberate, a catachrestical twisting of the proper or usual meaning for effect (and before I get any pointed comments, yes, I did employ catachreses for illustrative effect in the opening paragraph of this post). So there you go - my chance at a genuine rant is gone, because I searched catachresis on the internet and came back with the troubling notion that there's a lot of confusion about what it means and, yes, our use of catachresis is often ironically catachrestical.
Do please leave your most curmudgeonly, catachrestic and carnaptious comments in the box below.