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Catachresis (from Greek κατάχρησις, "abuse"), originally meaning a grammatical misuse or error — e.g., using “militate” for “mitigate”, “decimate” for “devastate”, “our mutual friend” for “our friend in common”, “chronic” for “severe”, “anachronism” for “anomaly”, “alibi” for “excuse”, etc. — is also the name given to many different types of figure of speech in which a word or phrase is being applied in a way that significantly departs from conventional (or traditional) usage.
There are various different subdefinitions of catachresis.
|Catachresis||Crossing categorical boundaries with words, because there otherwise would be no suitable word.||The sustainers of a chair being referred to as legs.|
|Catachresis||Replacing an expected word with another, half rhyming word, with an entirely different meaning from what one would expect.||I'm ravished! for "I'm ravenous!" or for "I'm famished!" "They build a horse" instead of they build a house.|
|Catachresis||The strained use of an already existing word or phrase.||"Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon's purse" — Shakespeare, Timon of Athens|
|Catachresis||The replacement of a word with a more ambiguous synonym.||Saying job-seeker instead of "unemployed".|
Dead people in a graveyard being referred to as inhabitants is an example of catachresis.
Classification in literature
Masters of this [Catachresis] will say,
- Mow the beard,
- Shave the grass,
- Pin the plank,
- Nail my sleeve.
In Jacques Derrida's ideas of deconstruction, catachresis refers to the original incompleteness that is a part of all systems of meaning. Postcolonial theorist Gayatri Spivak applies this word to "master words" that claim to represent a group, e.g., women or the proletariat, when there are no "true" examples of "woman" or "proletarian". In a similar way, words that are imposed upon a people and are deemed improper thus denote a catachresis, a word with an arbitrary connection to its meaning.
- Anshuman Sharma. The Impact - The Art of Communicating Eloquently. Anshuman Sharma. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-105-99521-7.
- Max Black discusses this phenomenon at some length, designating them catachrestic substitution metaphors: Black, M., Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy, Cornell University Press, (Ithaca), 1962.
- Jeremy Stolow (14 November 2012). Deus in Machina:Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between. Fordham Univ Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-8232-4980-0.
- "Henry Peachum., The Garden of Eloquence (1593): Tropes, part Tropes, Catachresis". Perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
- John Van Sickle (29 December 2010). Virgil's Book of Bucolics, the Ten Eclogues Translated into English Verse: Framed by Cues for Reading Aloud and Clues for Threading Texts and Themes. JHU Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-8018-9961-4.
- Paul Maurice Clogan (1 January 1997). Historical Inquiries. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-8476-8674-2.
- Jonathan Arac (2011). Impure Worlds: The Institution of Literature in the Age of the Novel. Fordham Univ Press. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-8232-3178-2.
- Pope, Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry, x
- Ghiazza, Silvana (2007). Le figure retoriche. Bologna: Zanichelli. p. 350. ISBN 978-88-08-16742-2.
- Morton, Stephen (2003). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. London: Routledge. p. 176. ISBN 0-415-22934-0.
- Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 677. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
- The dictionary definition of catachresis at Wiktionary
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