There are times when various words can both be used to describe one particular kind of animal. The animal one word specifies is a bit different from the other(s), but in most cases there's plenty of overlap and few know the little things about them that differentiates them.

  1. crocodile and alligator

  2. turtle and tortoise

  3. shrimp/prawn and lobster

  4. crab, lobster, and crayfish

EDIT: I know, the examples are a bit confusing. I wrote this in a hurry, thinking that I'll edit it later on (which I have done). The species/catagory these words fall into is the same.

  • Does 'synonym' work? Or do you think there's a word specifically for animals?
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 16:56
  • 2
    'Synonym' is incorrect. 'Confusibles' for words often confused, and 'classmates' for 'words connected at a fairly obvious level' [think looser thesaurus groupings] (knives/forks/spoons; alligator/crocodile/gharial/caiman ...) are sometimes used. Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 17:03
  • (3) and (4) are all shellfish, if you wish to avoid mistakes ;o) Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 18:31
  • 1
    Well, shrimp and prawn can be called regional variations of English. Whereas the others are confusing species. crab, lobster and crayfish are confused?? Dunno.....who is confusing these terms? Your question hinges on two different issues.....
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 21:28
  • 1
    There isn't any special word; things are too various and fall into too many different categories for such a word. They're just words that refer to similar things, and that's all. Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 21:33

2 Answers 2


These are prototypes in the language of taxonomy.

In many sciences, from pathology to taxonomy, prototype refers to a disease, species, etc. which sets a good example for the whole category.


Another term is archetype, but it tends to be a more formal designation, something like a prototype with credentials.

They are not, as has been pointed out, synonyms, nor are they misnomers.

A more general idea is pars pro toto, where a part is used to refer to the whole. A mereism is a list of parts intended to substitute for the whole. Thus the sets are mereisms for the clades that contain them. Unfortunately, mereism has a particular meaning in biology, and would be confusing if used this way here.

  • pars prot toto is commonly called synecdoche. [why is that word underlined in red here??] Are these just confusing species, to the layperson?
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 21:25
  • I'm taking it as people who don't know enough about them to be confused. Most people have a strong local bias based on what they see every day, even if they are considered oddities elsewhere. @bof Thanks fixing that now.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 21:37
  • Never mind. I hesitate to say anything because I will be sent to chat. :) But I think her question mixes apples and oranges in a basic way: similar species, different species and regional variations in English, all lumped together.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 21:58
  • @Lambie agreed.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 22:07

umbrella term (or) blanket term

Is I think what the OP is after. A word that covers many different, but closely related things. For example, an American might refer to a crocodile as an alligator because they might be more familiar with that species of semiaquatic reptile. Someone from the southern states of the US might call Norwegian lobsters, langoustine, scampi, or prawns as crayfish (source) because they seem to belong to the same genus. It's quicker to say, and remember

Twenty years ago, I remember hearing children call tortoises, turtles because of the popular 1980s cartoon series, Ninja Turtles.

An umbrella term is a word or phrase that covers a wide range of concepts belonging to a common category. For example, cryptology is an umbrella term that encompasses cryptography and cryptanalysis, among other fields.

A blanket term is a closely related word or phrase that is used to describe multiple groups of related things.

  • The degree of relation may vary or have a minimal relationship, but blanket terms often trade specificity for ease of use.
  • In other words, a blanket term, by itself, gives little detail about the things that it describes or the relationships between them, but it is easy to say and remember.


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