1 : use of the wrong word for the context
2 : use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech
"Online dictionaries are handy. One can click on synonyms and antonyms, follow new links and lures, and get pleasantly lost in a high-tech thicket of info. Being a tap or two away, more people might be tempted to look up unfamiliar words. And anything that counteracts catachresis is fine with us." -- From an editorial in the Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts), December 7, 2009
"Dryden had drawn attention to Cleveland's poetic manner in Of Dramatick Poesy: An Essay (1668), creating the label 'Clevelandism' to name the poet's habit of catachresis, 'wresting and torturing a word into another meaning', and making unfavorable comparisons between Donne and Cleveland…." -- From Nigel Smith's 2010 book Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon
Did You Know?
As you might have guessed, "catachresis" is a word favored by grammarians. It can sometimes be used merely as a fancy label of disparagement for uses the grammarian finds unacceptable --as when Henry Fowler insisted in 1926 that "mutual" in "our mutual friend" was a catachresis. (Fowler preferred "common," but "mutual" does have an established sense which is correct in that context.) The first recorded use of "catachresis" dates to1553, and it has been used to describe (or decry) misuses of a word ever since. "Catachresis" comes to us by way of Latin from the Greek word "katachrēsis," which means "misuse."
Test Your Memory
What recent 3-letter Word of the Day means "a conciliatory or propitiatory bribe, gift, or gesture"? The answer is ...