Figure Name catachresis
Source Ad Herennium 4.33.35 ("abusio"); Quintilian 8.2.6; 8.6.34-36; Susenbrotus (1540) 11 ("catachresis," "abusio"); Sherry (1550) 41 ("catachresis", "abusio"); Wilson (1560) 200 ("abusion"); Peacham (1577) C4r; Putt. (1589) 190 ("catachresis," "figure of abuse"); Day 1599 79; Hoskins 1599 11; Butler B1r-v ; Silva Rhetoricae (; JG Smith (1665) ("catachresis"); Ad Herennium (343); Garrett Epp (1994) ("abusio," "catachresis"); Gibbons (1767) 98 ("catachresis"); Vinsauf ([c 1215] 1967) ("catachresis (abusio)"); Holmes (1806) ("catachresis"); Macbeth (1876; De Mille (1882); Du Marsais (1730) ('la catachrèse'); Blount (1653) 6; Blackwall (1718); Bullinger (1898) ("catachresis; or, incongruity")
Earliest Source None
Synonyms abusio, figure of abuse, abusion, incongruity
Etymology Gk. from kata "against" and chreesthai "to use" hence cat'-a-chree-sis "misuse"
Type Chroma
Linguistic Domain Semantic

1. The use of a word in a context that differs from its proper application. This figure is generally considered a vice; however, Quintilian defends its use as a way by which one adapts existing terms to applications where a proper term does not exist. (Silva Rhetoricae)

2. Abuse: it is the abuse of a trope, and is when words are too far wrested from their native and genuine signification.; Catachresis, abusio, abuse, derived from [catachraomai] abutor, to abuse, or from the praeposition [cata] contra, against, and [chresis] usus, use. It is a form of speech, whereby the speaker or writer, wanting a proper word, borroweth the next or the likest to the thing that he would signifie. It is an improper kinde of speech, somewhat more desperate than a Metaphor, and is the expressing of one matter by the name of another, which is incompatible with, and sometimes clean contrary to it: and is when the change of speech is hard, strange· and unwonted: or, It is the abuse of a Trope, when words are too far wrested from their native signification, or when one word is abusively put for another, for lack of the proper word: (JG Smith)

3. Catachresis is the inexact use of a like and kindred word in place of the precise and proper one (Ad Herennium)

4. Inexact use of a word (also the unintentional misuse of a word, which is considered a fault). (Garrett Epp)

5. "…it borrows the name of one thing to express another, [1] which has either no proper name of its own, or [2] if it has, the borrowed name is used either for surprising by novelty, or for the sake of a bold and daring energy." (Gibbons)

6. There is likewise an urbane imprecision of diction when a word is chosen which is neither literal nor precise in its context, but which is related to the literal word. (Vinsauf)

7. A Catachresis words too far doth strain Rather from such abuse of speech refrain. (Holmes)

8. Catachresis itself deserves to be catalogued as a legitimate form of : a metaphor that borders on impropriety, or seems to confound the nature of things; a breaking loose into a bad construction such as grammar forbids; lawful when it arises from a crowd of thoughts clouding the right construction out of sight, or from warmth of emotion rendering the speaker all unmindful of Lindley Murray or Gould Brown. We speak of a silver candlestick; Horace writes of children riding on horseback on a long reed; Moses tells us of the blood of the grape. The reader has a certain delight in seeing the bands of syntax thrown off now and then, and the reins cast wild, on the neck of the steed wilder than of the Ukraine. (Macbeth)

There is a peculiar kind of metaphor, called catachresis, which is sometimes defined as "an abuse of metaphor;" but a better definition is that it is a word turned from its literal signification, and made to express something at variance with it, as,
"The music of her face."
Here "music," which is the beauty of sound, is affirmed of the beauty of aspect, with which it is at variance as belonging to a different class of things. (De Mille)

10. Abus, extension, ou imitation. Les langues les plus riches n' ont point un
assez grand nombre de mots pour exprimer
chaque idée particulière, par un terme
qui ne soit que le signe propre de cette idée; ainsi l' on est souvent obligé d'emprunter le mot propre de quelqu' autre idée, qui a le plus de raport à celle qu' on veut exprimer ; par exemple : l' usage ordinaire est de clouer des
fers sous les piés des chevaux, ce qui s'apèle
ferrer un cheval : ... Ainsi la catachrése est, pour ainsi dire, un écart que certains mots font de leur premiére signification, pour en prendre une autre qui y a quelque raport, et c' est aussi ce qu' on
apèle extension : par exemple ; feuille se
dit par extension ou imitation des choses qui sont plates et minces, come les feuilles des plantes ; ... on n' en peut rendre raison que par la conoissance de leur première origine, et de l' écart, pour ainsi dire, qu' un mot a fait de sa première signification et de son premier usage : ainsi cette figure mérite une atention particuličre ; elle regne en quelque sorte sur toutes les autres figures. La catachrèse n' est pas toujours de la męme espéce.
(I) il y a la catachrèse qui se fait lorsqu'on done à un mot une signification éloignée,qui n' est qu' une suite de la signification primitive : c' est ainsi etc. : ce qui peut souvent être raporté à la
métalepse, dont nous parlerons dans la suite.
(Ii) la seconde espéce de catachrèse n' est
proprement qu' une sorte de métaphore, c' est
lorsqu' il y a imitation et comparaison, come
quand on dit ferrer d' argent, feuille de papier ,etc. --

Abuse, extension, or imitation.
The richest languages don’t have a large enough number of words to express each particular idea by a term that signifies only that idea; therefore, we are often obliged to borrow the proper word from another idea which has more rapport with that which we want to express; for example, the normal usage of nailing irons to the hooves of horses we call “to iron a horse”; ... Therefore catachresis is, to say otherwise, is a leap which certain words will make from their primary significance to take another one which has some rapport, and it is also what we call extension: for example, “leaf” means by extension or imitation things which are flat and thin like leaves of plants; ... we can only explain them by knowledge of their primary origin and of the removal, so to say, that a word has made from its first significance and its first usage: therefore this figure merits a particular attention: it reigns, in some sort, over all the other figures. ...catachresis is not always of the same species. (i)There is a catachresis when we have given a word a removed significance which follows the primitive significance; it can be often related to Metalepsis, which will follow. (ii) The second species of catachresis is properly a type of metaphor since there is imitation and comparison like when we say “to iron with silver,” “leaf of paper,” etc. (Du Marsais [trans. Abbott])

11. "CATACHRESIS, in English, Abuse, is now grown in fashion, as most abuses are; It is somewhat more desperate than a Metaphor; And is the expressing of one matter by the name of another, which is incompatible with, and sometimes clean contrary to it" (Blount)

12. Catachresis or Abuse is a bold Trope, which borrows the Name of one thing to express another thing; which either has no proper Name of its own, or, if it has, the borrow'd Name is more surprizing and acceptable by its Boldness and Novelty.
(...) By this short Account 'tis plain, that there is a general Analogy or Relation between all Tropes, and that in all of them a Man uses a foreign or strange Word instead of a proper one; and therefore says one thing and means something different. When he says one thing and means almost the same, 'tis a Synecdoche or Comprehension: When he says one thing and means another mutually depending, 'tis a Metonymie: When he says one thing and means another opposite or contrary, 'tis an Irony: When he says one thing and means another like to it, it is a Metaphor: A Metaphor continu'd and often repeated becomes an Allegory: A Metaphor carry'd to a great Degree of Boldness, is an Hyperbole; and when at first sound it seems a little harsh and shocking, and may be imagin'd to carry some Impropriety in it, 'tis a Catachresis. (Blackwall)

13. One word changed for another only remotely connected with it... Catachresis is a figure by which one word is changed for another, and this against or contrary to the ordinary usage and meaning of it. The word that is changed is transferred from its strict and usual signification to another that it only remotely connected with it... Catachresis is of three kinds:-
i. Of two words, where the meaning are remotely akin.
ii. Of two words, where the meanings are different.
iii. Of one word, where the Greek receives its real meaning by permutation from the Hebrew, or some other language, or foreign usage. (Bullinger, 675-676)


2. In this example, what is meant is conveyed through a misapplication of one part of the body to another.
As one said that disliked a picture with a crooked nose, "The elbow of his nose is disproportionable" —J. Smith

2. By the license of this figure we give names to many things which lack names: as when we say, The water runs, which is improper; for to run, is proper to those creatures which have feet and not unto water. By this form also we attribute hornes to a snail, and feet to a stool; and so likewise to many other things which lack their proper names. (JG Smith)

?. The word "parricide" literally means a killer of one's father, but for lack of proper terms, is also used to refer to killing one's mother or brother:
In his rage at Gertrude, Hamlet nearly became a parricide like his uncle.

In this example, no parallel idiom to "sight unseen" exists for things auditory, so the idiom is wrenched from its proper context to this unusual one.
He was foolish enough to order the new music CD sight unseen.

Similarly, there is no word comparable to "sightseeing" for a similar sort of tour done with sound, and so a familiar (if technically inappropriate) use of "seeing" is used:
The podcast included a soundseeing tour of London's theatre district.

3. "The power of man is short" (Ad Herennium)

3. "the long wisdom in the man" (Ad Herennium)

3. "to engage in a slight conversation" (Ad Herennium)

4. I will speak daggers to her, but use none. (Hamlet 3.2 qtd. in Garrett Epp)

5. (1) "Thus Quintillian allows us to say that we dart a ball or a stake, though darting belongs only to a javelin."(Gibbons)

5. (2) "Thus Virgil says, 'The goat himself, man of the flock, had fray'd.' by man, evidently meaning the father and leader of the flock." (Gibbons)

6. For example, it one proposes to say: The strength of the Ithacan is slight, but yet he has mind of great wisdom, let catachresis alter the wording thus: Strength in Ulysses is short, wisdom in his heart is long, for there is a certain affinity between the words long and great, as between short and slight. (Vinsauf)

7. The Man, i.e. Chief, of the Flock. He threatens, i.e. promises, a Favour. (Holmes)

9. "There, too, the goddess loves in stone, and fills
The air around with beauty."
The phrase "loves in stone" is similar to the above; and of the same nature is the following:
"Heartlessness, in comparison with which the ice of Nova Zembia is war."
Coldness of heart is here contrasted with a certain kind of ice. (De Mille)

10. par exemple : l' usage ordinaire est de clouer des fers sous les piés des chevaux, ce qui s'apèle ferrer un cheval : --

for example, the normal usage of nailing irons to the hooves of horses we call “to iron a horse” (Du Marsais [trans. Abbott])

10. par exemple ; feuille se dit par extension ou imitation des choses qui sont plates et minces, come les feuilles des plantes --

for example, “leaf” means by extension or imitation things which are flat and thin like leaves of plants. (Du Marsais [trans. Abbott])

11. "I gave order to some servants of mine, (whom I thought as apt for such charities as myself) to lead him out into a Forrest, and there kill him; where Charity is used for Cruelty." (Blount)

12. Down thither prone in Flight
He speeds, and thro the vast Ethereal Sky
Sails between Worlds and Worlds. - Milton (Blackwall)

13. [ex. of i.] Lev. 26:30. -"I will cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols." (Bullinger, 676)

13. [ex. of ii.] Exod. 5:21. -"Ye have made our savour to stink in the eyes of Pharaoh."
Here "stink" and "eyes" are incongruously conjoined to call our attention to the highest degree of abhorrence. (Bullinger, 678)

13. [ex. of iii]. Matt. 24:29. -"And the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." Hence dunameis "powers," means really "armies," from the Hebrew chayeel which has both meanings. (Bullinger, 679)

Kind Of Identity
Part Of Metaphor
Related Figures metaphor, acyron, metalepsis
Confidence Unconfident
Last Editor Ioanna Malton
Confidence Unconfident
Editorial Notes type of unclear The examples are jumbled up. There was an example from "J Smith" which I did not input, and other unnumbered and unnamed examples. -Nike
Reviewed No