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I am trying to describe someone's reactions in a situation. At first I used the word overreact, but then I realized it is not only the person's overreaction but also other kinds of inappropriate or unexpected reactions. Then I came across "misreact" which seems to be the right word, except that I am not sure if it is a real word.

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    Can you give any reason why it wouldn't be a legitimate application of the prefix "mis-" to the verb "react"?
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 13, 2018 at 0:58
  • Reactions can be exaggerated or even inappropriate, but can they really be said to be wrong per se in the sense the prefix mis- would suggest?
    – Lawrence
    Aug 13, 2018 at 1:03
  • @Lawrence - How about steering left into the front of the oncoming cement truck rather than right to avoid it?
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 13, 2018 at 1:14
  • @HotLicks Assuming it was caused by a lifetime of driving on the left side of the road, I can see where you're coming from. Still, the impulse itself would just be a reaction; it might be labeled an unfortunate reaction. Compare: behave/misbehave, align/misalign - there's a sense that something is wrong or even just incorrect. But an almost instinctual impulse - it just is, isn't it? One can describe the aftermath as good or bad, happy or sad, etc, but it doesn't seem appropriate to describe the reaction itself that way.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 13, 2018 at 1:24
  • @Lawrence - I don't understand what you think is the difference between a "misreaction" and an "inappropriate reaction", in an extreme case.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 13, 2018 at 1:37

2 Answers 2

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You are correct, you can use word misreact.

You won't find it in standard dictionaries like Merriam-Webster or Oxford. But you can certainly use it to convey the meaning "react in the wrong way".

The prefix mis- conveys that something is wrong. From the Oxford Dictionary:

mis- (prefix)
1. (added to verbs and their derivatives) wrongly. misapply
1.1 Badly. mismanage
1.2. Unsuitably. misname

A few references for misreact:

  1. Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises: A Casebook, by Linda Wagner-Martin, ed.

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  2. The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior by Martha Stout.

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  • Those dictionaries do not contain every word. Also, your answer is confusing: you call it (a) word then you say it is not. Then you give examples of it. So is it a word that you have found in those examples or what? Aug 13, 2018 at 7:01
  • @Knotell No, I haven't said that it is a word, I have explicitly stated it on the top. I said: "you can use word misreact." because of prefix mis-*. You can add this prefix to word "react". Secondly, yes, every word is not defined in those 2 dictionaries, but at the same time, words can be formed for usage.
    – Ubi.B
    Aug 13, 2018 at 7:05
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    Your answer currently says: (1) "You are correct, you can use word misreact", which means you are calling it a word; (2) "But misreact by itself is not a word." This is stating opposite things. I have no idea what your comment means; you should think how to write what you mean in a more clear manner. Aug 13, 2018 at 7:09
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    That's much better! Aug 13, 2018 at 7:13
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    An excellent answer. I like the confidence to state the real linguistic situation despite an absence of dictionary support. Up-voted.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 13, 2018 at 9:04
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If you are looking for a word with an actual dictionary definition (although I'm not certain that misreact is inappropriate), the closest in form and meaning I can think of is miscue:

[Merriam-Webster]

intransitive verb

: to make a miscue

noun

2 : MISTAKE, SLIP

the slightest miscue could make the trapeze artist lose his grip and fall to the mat below

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