cat·​a·​chre·​sis | \ ˌka-tə-ˈkrē-səs How to pronounce catachresis (audio) \
plural catachreses\ ˌka-​tə-​ˈkrē-​ˌsēz How to pronounce catachreses (audio) \

Definition of catachresis

1 : use of the wrong word for the context
2 : use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech (such as blind mouths)

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from catachresis

catachrestic \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈkre-​stik How to pronounce catachrestic (audio) \ or catachrestical \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈkre-​sti-​kəl How to pronounce catachrestical (audio) \ adjective
catachrestically \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈkre-​sti-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce catachrestically (audio) \ adverb

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 earliest recorded uses of catachresis date to the mid-16th century, 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."

First Known Use of catachresis

1550, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for catachresis

Latin, from Greek katachrēsis misuse, from katachrēsthai to use up, misuse, from kata- + chrēsthai to use

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about catachresis

Time Traveler for catachresis

Time Traveler

The first known use of catachresis was in 1550

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about catachresis

Statistics for catachresis

Cite this Entry

“Catachresis.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 28 January 2020.

More from Merriam-Webster on catachresis

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with catachresis

Comments on catachresis

What made you want to look up catachresis? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing steady, earnest care and effort

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Intact Latin Quiz

  • roman tablet
  • What did focus mean in Latin?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!