Is there a word or a phrase to describe an instance where meaning is ascribed to something where there is no such meaning or where the interpretation is particularly fanciful?

For example, when reading Shakespeare in English class or when viewing modern visual art in Art Appreciation class, someone mentions the 'phallic imagery or symbolism' of anything cylindrical in what is being read or viewed.

  • 3
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia covers this concept.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 13:58
  • 1
    @MετάEd The definition of Apophenia is at variance with 'drawing interpretations'/ 'reading too much into' kind of tendency of the reader.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 14:09
  • 4
    Meaning exists where we find it. If a reader finds meaning that the author didn't intend, who's to say that it doesn't exist?
    – Caleb
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 15:26
  • 1
    @Caleb Do I see a 'No' in front of the first sentence? Well, who's to say... :)
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 13:27
  • "Is it just me?"
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 13:48

8 Answers 8


It's a phrase, not a word, but there's the expression reading too much into something, as in:

Matt, I think you're reading too much into it.

TFD lists read into as a phrasal verb, meaning:

to attach or attribute a new or different meaning to something; to presume inferences as one reads something.

That seems to be pretty close to what you're after.


Pareidoilia is seeing meaning in random stimulus, such as seeing faces or animals in cloud patterns.

  • as with most things, there's a subreddit for that www.reddit.com/r/pareidolia
    – jackweirdy
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 18:35

The expression "Wishful thinking" comes to my mind. There's also a quirky word, "eisegesis" (the link is to the Wikipedia article on it, there's some useful related terms to be gleaned there, like "confirmation bias").

The word "exegesis", being a term with a long history, is also sometimes used to imply "wishful, crafty extrapolation", as in this beautiful poem by J.C.Ransom, Prometheus in Straits:

To the library then to view the masterpieces?
Not now, though I risk the damage of your inference,
For before their alterations respect ceases:
Their glowing centers you have laid over with absurd circumference,
Indeed you have undone them with exegesis,
And provoke me to a gesture not of deference.

There's also an idiom to read into.


pervert, v: 4. To interpret incorrectly; misconstrue or distort: an analysis that perverts the meaning of the poem.; 5. to misconstrue or misinterpret, esp. deliberately; distort.

slant, n: to have or be influenced by a subjective point of view, personal feeling or inclination, etc; bias.

bias, n, v: 1. mental tendency or inclination, esp an irrational preference or prejudice

stretch, n,v: 13. (tr) Informal to expand or elaborate (a story, etc.) beyond what is credible or acceptable that's stretching it a bit

warp n,v: 3. to pervert or be perverted

[src: TFD]

  • 1
    All these words pervert, slant, bias, stretch and warp are in no way representing something fanciful, nor do they give a new meaning where none exists. Stretch means to expand something, make it bigger. Bias and Slant - the words themselves give the meaning - biased. Pervert, warp - to corrupt something, to damage
    – uma
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 4:08
  • Oh! Really? 'Haps.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 6:50
  • 1
    see this
    – uma
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 8:47

The technical term for this phenomenon is apophenia. Name for cognitive bias suggesting a person is special or important. Here's an article that explains the phenomenon: http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Apophenia

Urban dictionary dictionary defines brain fact as follows:

A thought that you believe to be true. The "facts" are completely fabricated and are supported by zero empirical evidence whatsoever. The only qualifier is that you believe the fact to be true.


The word you are see king is: Eisegesis often confused with: Exegesis.

  • 2
    Welcome to ELU. This may be a very good and useful answer to the question - can you give a bit more explanation, and provide references or definitions to support your suggestion? It's always a good idea to give some evidence with your answers.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 20:33

One word I can think of is

an idea or feeling which a word invokes for a person in addition to its literal or primary meaning.

  • -1 There's no "for a person" in the definition of connotation -- if it connotes, it connotes to the reader in general -- it's a property of the expression, not the reader.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 14:07
  • 2
    That was from google dictionary, also connotation is reader specific and not a property of the expression.They connotation may or may not be apparent to every reader and may vary from reader to reader. Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 14:55
  • con·no·ta·tion ˌkänəˈtāSHən/ noun -- noun: connotation; plural noun: connotations 1. an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literal or primary meaning. "the word “discipline” has unhappy connotations of punishment and repression" -- that's Google's definition for you. Think again :)
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 5:22
  • Connotation is the tone or emotional association that a word has. ... usually something seen by the population in general. (answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080825040305AAFv3V0) Connotation refers to a meaning that is implied by a word apart from the thing which it describes explicitly. (literarydevices.net/connotation) A connotation is a commonly understood cultural or emotional association that some word or phrase carries, in addition to the word's or phrase's explicit or literal meaning, which is its denotation. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connotation)
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 5:30

This one's a little more folksy, but "painting a bullseye on a barn" refers to the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, which

refers to the tendency in human cognition to interpret patterns where none actually exist. The name comes from a joke about a Texan who fires some shots at the side of a barn, then paints a target centered on the biggest cluster of hits and claims to be a sharpshooter.

See also: Clustering illusion

  • That's apophenia again, in a different context, maybe of a different flavor. [meta: The down vote isn't mine.]
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 13:31

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