I just read this question and one of the answers started with

"Ordinarily, Frankenstein is a noun referring to a fictional monster"

As every nitpicker knows, Frankenstein is the doctor who created the (nameless!) monster. How does one call such a word that is used 'wrongly' by so many people that it almost changed it's meaning and most people think about the monster when hearing the name? [citation needed]

  • 2
    Every word is a neologism at first. And every word stops being a neologism once it's been used by tens of millions of people for two hundred years. If I used Frankenstein to mean "excavator", now that'd be a neologism.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 24, 2019 at 8:50
  • How many doctors are you talking about? I thought there was only one.
    – David
    Oct 24, 2019 at 9:07
  • @David: What do you mean?
    – FooTheBar
    Oct 24, 2019 at 9:08
  • Re-read your title. This is English Language and Usage.
    – David
    Oct 24, 2019 at 9:13
  • There doesn't seem to be a particular word/phrase/term for a word that is commonly misused. I base this on the million articles and lists online of "X of the most commonly misused English words", and books such as "100 Words Almost Everyone Confuses and Misuses", which would be more succinctly titled if there were such a word.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 24, 2019 at 10:19

3 Answers 3


No, using "Frankenstein" to refer to Frankenstein’s monster dates back to at least 1838, only 20 years after the book was published according to the OED:

They [sc. mules] really seem like Frankensteins of the animal creation.
Murray's Handbook Sicily

Here's another example I found from only a year later, in 1839:

Two gigantic empires—the Frankensteins of our own creation, which will soon turn upon the author of their being—are shooting...
The London Quarterly Review


I wouldn't call it a neologism, as it's not a new word; it's a semantic shift, ie the meaning changes from the creator to the monster. These things happen to many words over time.

The word nice shifted from meaning 'foolish' and 'stupid' to 'precise' and 'accurate' and nowadays means, erm, 'nice'. But it is not a neologism.

A neologism is a completely new word, something like crypto-currency, which didn't previously exist (though its component parts did). Or even covfefe, though the meaning of that word is not clear.


Here are a couple of instances of "Frankenstein" in the sense of "Frankenstein's monster" from a few years before those that Laurel cites in her very useful answer. First, from "English News: House of Commons," in the Sydney [New South Wales] Monitor (August 20, 1834):

We direct attention to several articles of news which appear in our paper of to-day, relating to the proceedings of Trades' Unions, and the revolution in the state of society which they are tending to accomplish.

These Unions seem likely to turn out the real Frankensteins of the Whig Ministry. Whig agitation gave them birth when the Whigs were in opposition ; but the patronage and countenance of Government, it was, which imparted to them vigour, and a sense of power. The Government taught them that they had power, and encouraged them to use it against the supremacy of the law.

And from a letter to the editor of the [Hobart, Tasmania] Colonial Times (August 2, 1836):

It is also too true that Umbra [a letter writer to a rival newspaper] possesses persuasive eloquence, which can make "the worse appear the better reason;" nay, he has more—much more ability of head—but sad to say his heart is wanting wholly; like Frankenstein's he's incomplete, though like that monster he has his victims.

Even earlier is this OCR snippet from an article in the London [England] Globe (August 22, 1826):

Mr. T. P. Cook expected to return [to] London immediately, in order appear the English Opera-house in the same character which has been much the rage at Paris, the monster Frankenstein.

Instances of popular association of "Frankenstein's monster" with "the monster Frankenstein" thus seem to date back to the middle 1820s at least. The process may have been helped along by popular dramatic entertainments in which Mary Shelley's title, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was recast first (in 1823) as The Fate of Frankenstein and later (in 1827) as Frankenstein, or The Monster.

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