First off, I'm not referring to malapropism.

I've heard and read a word used before to describe a word in which it is in the situation of being misused; The public thinks it has one meaning, and now this meaning has become the accepted meaning (by the public), thus it is misused in a all the time, when in reality, that meaning is incorrect.

The situation in which I first heard this word used was the GNU/Linux naming controversy. People often use the term "Linux" to mean an actual operating system or refer to the combination of GNU userland with the Linux kernel, when in reality (textbook definition, I guess) it's a kernel, but since it is so widespread, calling it GNU/Linux or something else would be strange to some people.

If it helps, I believe the word started with a 's'.(Maybe not, but I could have swore it started with s....)

Edit: I believe the word I was looking for was metonymy. I suppose my placement of stress on the fact that the use of the word is a misuse, when for a metonymy, it doesn't neceassrily have to be (I believe), might have misled some of you. I'm not sure if metonymy is the word, but I'll look a little bit more before accepting the answer.

  • 2
    Not sure, but it's driving me literally insane.
    – Devbag
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 16:55
  • @Devbag The situation I mentioned in the question drives you insane, or the uncertainty over with what the term is is driving you insane? I knew this term a couple of week ago, and now it's driving me insane trying to remember it Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 16:56
  • Nah I was just drawing parallels to the misuse of literally. So the uncertainty is what's doing it. Unfortunately misuse doesn't quite cover the intent. I can misuse something without it becoming publicly accepted.
    – Devbag
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 16:58
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    I think it's called a "word". There are few terms in the English language whose meanings have not mutated vastly over time.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 17:21
  • 2
    Following @Hot Licks' observation, there comes a time when 'a word ... is in the situation of being misused; The public thinks it has one meaning, and now this meaning has become the accepted meaning (by the public), thus it is misused in a [new and possibly conflicting sense] all the time, when in reality, that meaning is incorrect.' has to be replaced by 'the principal sense now is ...'. Popular usage drives acceptability. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 18:54

2 Answers 2


All of those. Pick one :)

An auto-antonym (sometimes spelled autantonym), or contronym (also spelled contranym), is a word with a homograph (another word of the same spelling) which is also an antonym (a word with the opposite meaning). An auto-antonym is alternatively called an antagonym, Janus word (after the Roman god), enantiodrome, self-antonym, antilogy, or addad (Arabic, singular didd).[2][3] It is a word with multiple meanings, one of which is defined as the reverse of one of its other meanings. This phenomenon is called enantiosemy,[4] enantionymy or antilogy.

So if you want to start with an s, it's self-antonym.

Admittedly your case is only one possibility how to end up with an self-antonym.

In German such a word is commonly known as a Janus word, but I do not know which of the above word is most common in English.

EDIT: Though the definition says contrary some of the examples are also not complete opposites.

"Committed" can mean "dedicated/devoted to" or to be "confined" in a mental institution or prison

  • I don't think this is what the OP was looking for, however— the sense of Linux as a kernel and as an operating system are orthagonal, not contradictory, unlike the principal meanings of alight or sanction for example, which are opposite without regard to register.
    – choster
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 17:30

The word is "layman", as in "the term x is being used in the layman's sense" - meaning in a way that is not technically correct, but generally accepted by the public.

  • No, this is not answering the question, which asks for the term for the word (e.g. "metonymy"), not the term for the person using the word (e.g. "layman"). Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 1:29

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