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

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

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    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

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


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.



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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