I've never seen it in any dictionary, and searching on Google gives fairly few, almost irrelevant results, but it seems like it could potentially be a word, albeit perhaps a technical one at that. It would be defined as "to modify incorrectly or accidentally."

This could refer to, for example, a file which was modified in an unintentional way, though it really doesn't have to be limited to technological contexts.

  • 1
    Definition of mis- prefix. > 1. a prefix applied to various parts of speech, meaning “ill,” “mistaken,” “wrong,” “wrongly,” “incorrectly,” or simply negating: mistrial; misprint; mistrust. Origin of mis-1 Expand. Old English. (dictionary.com) Yes, from this meanng mismodify would work.
    – Prodnegel
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 21:42
  • 1
    @Centaurus William Safire has used it here Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 22:22
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth, what are you talking about? First off, I never said anything about productivity. Second of all, a thing's productivity can surely be graded. Similar to how foreign in this example could be graded "She sounded slightly foreign.", one could be "slightly" productive, where productivity is measured in whatever form the medium suggests.
    – Prodnegel
    Commented Nov 22, 2016 at 23:01
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the OP has already discovered through research that the word does not exist.
    – jimm101
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 2:00
  • 2
    Ah, but what does Safire know about English??
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 4:22

2 Answers 2


A Google Books search yields two matches for mismodify. The earlier of these is from Mervyn Falk, A Cleft Palate Team Addresses the Speech Clinician (1971) [combined snippets]:

Keep in mind that we have defined the production of a speech signal as a modified voiced or voiceless airstream. Now what is done to overmodify or mismodify, as you might conceive of it, has really only to do with getting that child into the therapy situation. From here on, we are interested in what is correct.

And the later is from Rivista Di Linguistica, volume 12 (2000):

3. Adverbs and movement in Romance

Morphologically motivated head movement creates situations of surface mismodification—situations in which an adverb is not next to, and hence not adjoined to, its modifiee in surface structure. So in the now standard Emonds/Pollockian (Emonds 1978; Pollock 1989) surface structure of French we find (8a) analyzed as (8b), where the adverb appears to mismodify the VP, as it does not seem to be adjoined to it in the following: ...

This second example, as you can see, also contains an instance of mismodification, as do eleven other Google Books matches going back to this one in Modern Exposition: A Textbook in Expository Writing (1942):

A particularly crude type of mismodification appears in

The persons the engineer is addressing, either oral or written. . . .

Since oral and written are adjectives and can modify only substantives, they must modify engineer, or possibly persons.

Joel Bowman & Berndine Branchaw, How to Write Proposals that Produce (1992) identifies "mismodification" as a type of grammar error:


Misplaced modifiers modify the wrong word, phrase, or clause. A dangling modifier has no word, phrase, or clause that it can logically modify. Avoid mismodification by placing the modifier close to the word, phrase, or clause that it modifies.

Google Books searches also turn up nine probable matches for mismodified from as early as David Ebert, Synthesis and Localization of Lysosomal Enzymes in Secretory Mutants ... (1986), which uses the term on five different pages, including page 49 [combined snippets]:

Other proteins, essential for the operation of the lysosomal system, may function improperly because they are mismodified, or something may be wrong with the targeting and secretion pathway which affects lysosomal enzyme modification, but is independent of it.

So a whole family of words built on mismodify has existed for several decades, serving writers functioning in fields ranging from speech therapy to biochemistry to oncology to grammar. Most of the instances that Google Books searches identify, however, are clustered in the last two areas.


Yes, mismodified means exactly what you imagine it to mean. That’s how English affixes like this work: you combine a common prefix and a common base word to create a word that everyone who knows those two components already knows what means.

It is much easier to prove that something does exist than that it does not, for the affirmative a simple existence proof suffices. Here then is not one but four such existence proofs:

  1. And now to the event itself, so often mismodified by abortive (“tending to be cut short”), better modified by aborted (“terminate early”), and best buy failed, unsuccessful or the breezier fizzled: “It was described as a coup,” writes the Reverend Donald Hendricks of Yonkers....
    Watching My Language:: Adventures in the Word Trade, by William Safire

  2. However, that does not imply that chromatin modification is not reversible. In fact, chromatin can become mismodified in certain cancers, an this shows that, although important, the change of chromatin is not permanent.
    The Mysterious Waves Of Living Cells, by Hubert Rudakemwa

  3. The ER has a robust quality control system that prevents misfolded and mismodified proteins from exiting the ER and being transported on to the Golgi.
    Could inhibition of the proteasome cause mad cow disease?, Trends in Biotechnology, Volume 21, Issue 4, April 2003

  4. One possible function of endonucleolytic tRNA cleavage might be to degrade unprocessed, mismodified, or uncharged tRNAs.
    tRNA cleavage is a conserved response to oxidative stress in eukaryotes RNA. 2008 Oct; 14(10): 2095–2103.

Every native speaker immediately and intuitively knows what this easily recognized word means, howsoever scarce samples of it may be “in the wild”. So you’re perfectly safe here.

Notice that all four of those citations are from published authors who clearly know what they’re talking about, not just some worthless graffiti from the likes of Urban Dictionary or Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but I for one elect not to argue with William Safire On Language. :)

  • I don't know whether 'modify when one shouldn't' or 'modify to produce an unacceptable result' is intended. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 13:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.