What I want to describe (concisely) is when a person speaks, but they use words that don't work with what they are talking about. It's not that they're ignorant, glib, prolix, ostentatious, or pretentious in their speech. Often the word choice is a common, simple word. It's just not right.

The nearest concept to the one I'm looking for is in Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" where he defines bullshit as talking without regard to the truth (not trying to lie or tell the truth), but in my case, it's not truth that I'm concerned with, but accuracy.

Possibly important: the people in question are not ignorant to the meaning of the words that are used wrongly. They are often terms of art in their given field and they can use them properly.

As an example, consider a primatologist referring to baboons (who e.g. have tail) as "those hominids over there" (hominids do not have tails).

  • What you just described is one sense of glib, an answer I was about to give until I noted that it was in your list of words you don't want. So, explain why glib does not match your example sentence with the sense "b : showing little forethought or preparation : offhand • glib answer." Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:02
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    So you are talking about someone who is slipshod or haphazard but only with respect to word meanings? A single word for someone who is cavalier regarding semantics. Hmm. Tricky. Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:55
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    I'm probably asking too much from a single word. Something that completes either of those would work. I've added the tag for phrase requests.
    – Plown Over
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 20:36
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    My last attempt. -- He chooses words unmindfully; it's similar to carelessly but perhaps less judgemental.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 21:29
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    @3D1T0R It's not an intentional word choice. In fact, the absence of the intentionality is key. After sleeping on it, cavalier (from Hugh Meyers and PV22) is rather close to it. As Hugh Meyers put it, "semantically cavalier" may be as concise and accurate as this may get.
    – Plown Over
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 16:56

7 Answers 7


Cavalier [kav-uh-leer] adjective

1 haughty, disdainful, or supercilious: an arrogant and cavalier attitude toward others.

2 offhand or unceremonious:

Source: Dictionary.com

As suggested by: Hugh Meyers

Usage: The primatologist is cavalier with his use of terms. He refers to baboons as primates.


What about careless

From dictionary.com:

  1. not exact, accurate, or thorough

or simply inaccurate?

  • Inaccurate isn't quite the thing I want to refer to. The words are inaccurate, but it's the choice of words I want to describe instead. Careless is quite close, but I was thinking of something more like rejecting the need for care rather than lacking care, which careless seems to more strongly suggest.
    – Plown Over
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 18:28

inchoate TFD and Oxford

  1. Imperfectly formed or developed; disordered, incoherent, chaotic, disordered, confused; rambling.

As in:

"A prophet must be a good public speaker, someone who can transform inchoate rage into eloquent diatribe" (David Leavitt).


Blather [blath -er] noun

1 foolish, voluble talk:

Source: Dictionary.com

synonyms: prattle, drivel

Usage: I can’t listen to this primatologist blather on. He doesn’t even get the family correct, calling baboons primates.


If the word sounds close to the right one, then it could be a malapropism or eggcorn. The latter is a newer coinage and so may not be as widely known.


1 : the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase; especially : the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context


a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase either on its own or as part of a set expression

But you suggest it is done deliberately (for humorous effect?) so the only thing I can suggest is to add "deliberate" before the word of choice (e.g. "deliberate malapropism").

Just discovered the word catachresis and thought of this thread:

1 : use of the wrong word for the context

This could be combined with other answers as careless (or cavalier) catachresis.

  • I see nothing in the question or comments to suggest that it's done deliberately, whether for humorous effect or not. In my experience, deliberate malapropism done for humorous effect is usually referred to as a pun, or some other type of joke. I've posted a comment on the question to ask for clarification of this point.
    – 3D1T0R
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 22:24
  • @3D1T0R Having seen the comment from Hugh Myers (and the reply), I think I misinterpreted what was said.
    – user184130
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 22:31

To answer, I would consider 'histrionics' but that could also be construe in the positives, and so to settle the word is dick like she's a dick or she's being a petulant dick, as in dicky a curiously inquisitive detective in prime heat.


Gibberish [jib-er-ish, gib-] noun

1 meaningless or unintelligible talk or writing.

Source: Dictionary.com

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