I've been looking for a word all day with a very specific definition, It is very similar to a misnomer, yet intentional and usually through unreality to describe something humorously, E.g. "Horse tornado" as a word for carousel or "Cold house" as a word for fridge. This is a very specific word. The closest I've come is misnomer, or something similar to the opposite of folk etymology, But I'm not able to find anything more specific due to horrendous google search results

  • Does this term only apply when the individual say "get on the horse tornado" just to be funny, or can you also use it to describe the situation when the person has forgotten/doesn't know the proper term?
    – 1006a
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 20:20
  • I believe the definition is more applied to the specific disconnection from reality instead of using a simpler term rather than mistaking the term.
    – Marion
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 20:23
  • If it applied in cases where the person forgot or was trying to be euphemistic, I'd call it a circumlocution, but I don't know of a term that emphasizes the fantasy aspect.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 20:27
  • Are you looking for a term for a one-off invention, or for a euphemism that was recalled?
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 5:00

1 Answer 1


The nature of impossibility (unreality) is captured with the literary term


CATACHRESIS (Grk. "misuse"): A completely impossible figure of speech or an implied metaphor... For instance, Hamlet says of Gertrude, "I will speak daggers to her." A man can speak words, but no one can literally speak daggers. In spite of that impossibility, readers know Shakespeare means Hamlet will address Gertrude in a painful, contemptuous way.

-Carson Newson University.

and I would say fits your first example:

horse tornado

As a horse cannot be a tornado, nor a tornado a horse ; yet in the context of a carousel the imagery is meaningful and still makes sense, much like the yoking of speaking and daggers, should not make sense, yet it does.

  • Note that this term is also used by lexicographers. The OED defines catachresis as “Improper use of words; application of a term to a thing which it does not properly denote; abuse or perversion of a trope or metaphor.” They have entries marked catachrestic, which means “Of the nature of catachresis; wrongly used, misapplied, wrested from its proper meaning.” I’m not sure that it’s meant to be deliberate.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 2:47
  • Interesting thanks for the further information @tchrist. On the deliberateness of the technique, I would say the above link implies it can be, as they cite Shakespeare's "speaking daggers" as an example of Catachresis, and I doubt they imagined Shakespeare used the technique in error :)
    – Gary
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 11:07

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.