cat·​a·​chre·​sis ˌka-tə-ˈkrē-səs How to pronounce catachresis (audio)
plural catachreses ˌka-tə-ˈkrē-ˌsēz How to pronounce catachresis (audio)
: use of the wrong word for the context
: use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech (such as blind mouths)
catachrestic adjective
or catachrestical
catachrestically 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."

Word History


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

First Known Use

1550, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of catachresis was in 1550


Dictionary Entries Near catachresis

Cite this Entry

“Catachresis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2024.

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