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What's the word meaning the use of the wrong word?

For instance, calling a "theft" a "robbery".

  • 1
    Theft and robbery mean the same thing outside a law court, where they may have different meanings. – John Lawler Aug 9 '13 at 19:07
  • @JohnLawler Even in the law, robbery is a subset of theft. It involves a theft where threat of bodily harm is likely (at least in the US). – bib Aug 9 '13 at 19:39
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    @bib, that's so from a criminal justice point of view, but in English sometimes robbery isn't even illegal, as in the phrase daylight robbery, meaning charging an excessive price for something. – Brian Hooper Aug 9 '13 at 19:59
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    @BrianHooper Yeah, and I felt like that scheming store owner was holding me up at gunpoint! – bib Aug 9 '13 at 20:03
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    As is often the case, the example OP gives is less than helpful, provoking more discussion than the question. I thought that J Lawler's comment was satisfactory, but the three major dictionaries I checked all stipulate that robbery involves a nasty confrontation (you can't be a 'sneak-robber'). – Edwin Ashworth Aug 9 '13 at 22:37
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One form of wrong-word-use is malapropism

the unintentional misuse of a word by confusion with one of similar sound, esp when creating a ridiculous effect, as in I am not under the affluence of alcohol

Another is misnomer

an incorrect or unsuitable name or term for a person or thing

And there is always that broader explanation (not limited to simple word substitution) by politicians, that they misspoke

to speak incorrectly, improperly, or misleadingly

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A little uncommon, but it's really specific for what you need: catachresis:

A misuse of a word; an application of a term to something which it does not properly denote.

-1

Malapropos:

in an inopportune or inappropriate way.
Oxford Dictionaries

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Hi Liberty, welcome to EL&U. This isn't a bad start, but it's too short: the system will certainly flag it as "low-quality because of its length and content." An answer on EL&U is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct. It's best if you edit your answer to provide more information - e.g., add a source for your definition, explain why malapropos suits the context and perhaps say something about how commonly it's used. For further guidance, see How to Answer and take the EL&U Tour. :-) – Chappo Apr 25 at 10:19

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