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Is there a word to describe using one thing as if it is for another purpose? For instance, Chaplin handling his cane as if it's a pool-table cue stick, or someone using a racing hurdle as a clothesline, or a bird using a stick as a fishing pole?

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  • In the context of medical practice, the established term is off-label, but it obviously cannot be used for the specific examples that the OP lists.
    – jsw29
    Dec 12, 2021 at 17:04

4 Answers 4

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A common usage would be substitute. Chaplin substituted a cane for a pool cue. Clothesline was substituted for the missing hurdle.

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The connotation is usually not so light, but for the cane:

misappropriate - to put to a wrong use.

It is more often used in that sense for ideas and not objects.

You could also say it's reappropriation in the case of the clothesline. Appropriate is a verb meaning "to authorize for some specific purpose," so to reappropriate would be to set aside for a new purpose.

Again, reappropriation is not generally used for objects. You hear it used to describe slurs being reconnotated into compliments.

I would not find it out of line, though, to say that the cane is misappropriated and the clothesline is reappropriated.

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I think the word you're looking for is repurpose, which means adapt for use in a different purpose.

Source: Oxforddictionaries.com (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/repurpose)

For example, you might say that the bird repurposed the stick to use it as a fishing pole.

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You can say that Chaplin as the Tramp reimagined his cane as a cue stick.

reimagine (v.)

To imagine again or anew especially: to form a new conception of : RE-CREATE m-w

Reinterpret (an event, work of art, etc.) imaginatively.

I questioned how the goddess symbolism might constitute a cultural resource for religious women wanting to reimagine gender relations. Lexico


This is the longest set piece, or routine, Chaplin has injected into one of his films so far, and it's an exemplary one, examining at great length that most essential aspect of his art: the impulse to reimagine the universe, the absurd but wildly ingenious compulsion on the part of the Tramp, of Chaplin, to change the meaning of objects, to invent new meanings. Kyp Harness; The Art of Charlie Chaplin

Each room incorporates an object or two that has been reused, recycled, or reimagined—a decorative box embellished with old buttons, a vintage rowing-club trophy wired as a lamp, and so on. Marie Proeller Hueston; Farmhouses

He never mentioned these assumptions explicitly, but invoked them through ludicrous transformations: a racist rant reimagined as the inspiration for a love ballad, a white racist reimagined as an object of sexual desire, and a victim of racial prejudice reimagined as a womanizing charmer. H. Samy Alim et al.; Raciolinguistics: How Language Shapes our Ideas About Race

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