"Sweetbread," "guinea pig," "shortbread" (a typical Scottish biscuit), "egg cream" (a carbonated drink), and "firefly" are all not what their two nouns claim.

A sweetbread is neither sweet nor bread, a guinea pig is not a pig from Guinea, and so forth.

So, is there a technical term for this kind of word?


Sounds to me like a "misnomer".

A misnomer is a name or term that suggests an idea that is known to be wrong.

Wikipedia article

Among the examples it gives is the one you have in your question:

The guinea pig originated in the Andes not Guinea, and additionally is a rodent and unrelated to pigs.

Wikipedia article

Sometimes both words are inapt, sometimes one of the words are. Some examples where one of the words do not fit are:

  • French horns originated in Germany, not France.
  • Although dry cleaning does not involve water, it does involve the use of liquid solvents.
  • Tin foil is almost always aluminium, whereas "tin cans" made for the storage of food products are made from steel.

Catgut is not the intestines of a cat, but usually another animal, and in some cases not gut at all, but synthetic.

Other words containing two recognisable sub-words such as your "shortbread" example that are both wrong discretely include:

  • peanut (fairly obvious, not a pea, not a nut, but a legume)
  • strawberry (not straw, and technically not a berry), as well as many other berries

So I'm not sure if you're looking for an even more specific word, but these are definitely considered misnomers.

All the information is sourced from Wikipedia. Wikipedia article

Oxford Living Dictionaries defines a misnomer as:

1 A wrong or inaccurate name or designation.
1.1 A wrong or inaccurate use of a name or term.

Oxford Living Dictionaries

However as Wikipedia notes, the use of the word isn't incorrect. In other words it's not wrong to call sweetbread "sweetbread" even though it's not sweet nor bread.

Another example is Rocky Mountain oysters, or prairie oysters, which is a dish of cattle testicles. They're not oysters, and they need not be obtained from the Rocky Mountains or a prairie.

  • Zebrafish, I guess there's the simple term I was looking for. Thanx much! (PS: cattle testicles? Seriously?) – Wordster Jul 22 '18 at 22:35
  • @Wordster, yeah, and guess what lamb fries are, the same as the oysters but of sheep. There's a funny scene in a Chevy Chase movie where he breaks the record for the number of lamb fries eaten, then when he finds out what they really are throws up. The names of foods are really weird sometimes, like head cheese, which is a meat. – Zebrafish Jul 22 '18 at 22:48
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    I tip my Panama hat to you. – Phil Sweet Jul 22 '18 at 23:13
  • @Zebrafish: in Aust/NZ English, "lamb's fry" means sheep's liver - a common (if old-fashioned) dish typically served with bacon. I never knew it had a different meaning in the USA. – Chappo Jul 23 '18 at 0:47
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    @1006a I don't know that irritation is the response you'd get from people. Misnomer sounds a lot like misnamed, which is actually its origin from Latin. That's exactly the first idea I get when I hear "misnomer", so that hearing egg cream (I don't even know what that is) would make me think it's misnamed and so would be a misnomer, ie., misnamed. This is in a casual, non-technical sense, aside from what grammarians or linguists have to say about what "misnomer" really means. – Zebrafish Jul 23 '18 at 8:15

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