Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: misnomer.


Speakers and writers frequently misuse this word, meaning “an inappropriate name,” to mean “a popular misconception” — e.g.: “‘The last I remember, only 7 percent of Division I programs operate in the black. The common misnomer [read ‘misunderstanding’] is that people see this as a multi-million-dollar business.'” “College Arena a Marketplace,” Times Union (Albany), 24 Dec. 2000, at C1 (quoting Syracuse assistant athletic director Michael Veley). Oddly enough, this mistake is itself a kind of misnomer based on a misconception. Although the error is less common in edited text, it does surface — e.g.: o “The idea is to break down the stigmas, myths and misnomers [read ‘misunderstanding’] surrounding suicide by showing teens and others that death is never a solution to a problem.” Eric Bradley, “Group Looks to Prevent Teen Suicide,” Oshkosh Northwestern, 13 Sept. 2002, at A1. o “The old theory that was heard at UW for years is that the school needs a big-name coach. That’s really a misnomer [read ‘misconception’] because UW usually has succeeded in developing its own big-name coach.” Larry Birleffi, “Choosing Coach Requires Work,” Wyoming Trib.-Eagle, 21 Nov. 2002, at B2. Typically, when the term is used correctly it will accompany a misleading word or title, often in quotation marks — e.g.: “Old countries are sometimes world-weary and cynical, urging a ‘realism’ that is sometimes a misnomer for the moral corruption they know so very well.” Richard Cohen, “Nobel Winners and Losers,” Wash. Post, 15 Oct. 2002, at A19. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “A hearer, then, is included in the very idea of preaching; and we cannot determine how in detail we ought to preach, till we know whom we are to address.” John Henry Caldwell Newman, The Idea of a University (1873) (as quoted in Kenneth S. Rothwell, Questions of Rhetoric and Usage 3 (1971)).
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