kateMISNOMER: “1. the misnaming of a person in a legal instrument; 2. a. a use of a wrong or inappropriate name; b. a wrong name or inappropriate designation.” – Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

Misnomer means, quite literally, “wrong name” (mis + nominare, the same Latin root for nominate, nomenclature and, oh, name). When something is a misnomer, it is misnamed. The ladybug is a misnomer because it is not a true bug. Same with the jellyfish and starfish, as neither are fishes. Pencil lead contains no lead (misnomer), and so it goes. What a misnomer is not is a misleading or false statement, regardless of the origin:

Pending bills aimed at decriminalizing libel are “incomplete” and also a “misnomer,” said Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. (Philippine Daily Inquirer) No, these bills may be a “joke,” but unless they are not actually bills, chances are they are not misnomers.

Terrorism is a tactic used by individuals with specific ideologies. Killing an ideology is nearly impossible. The war on terror is a complete misnomer. (Frontpagemag.com) This writer wants to convey the War on Terror is ineffective, a poorly conceived idea – not that it’s misnamed. Again, “joke” may be more what the author intended – or perhaps “lie.”

Aztecs coach Rocky Long says rush defense rankings are a misnomer, especially in the Mountain West. (North County Times) Blaaagh! They are not a misnomer. They don’t tell the whole story, or they mislead or create misconceptions, but “rush defense rankings” rate teams according to their rush defense. Sounds about right.

So why use misnomer to mean deception or misconception? Because it sounds learned. And because it’s a noun, and using nouns shields a writer from using verbs which assign accountability to an action. Observe what happens with a little editing:

Pending bills aimed at decriminalizing libel are “incomplete” and “so poorly written as to be impotent.”

The architects of the war on terror are willfully deceiving the nation.

A little too much punch for us, huh? Well, I won’t belabor the point. If your “global company” only does business in two countries, that’s a misnomer. If your global company doesn’t know its Australian office from its Austrian office, that’s no misnomer. Your company just sucks.

Okay, since I’ve been accused of always being a negative Nancy, here is the first correct example of misnomer that came up under a Google News search:

Almost any woman who has been pregnant can tell you the moniker “morning sickness,” is a bit of a misnomer since the nausea can strike at any time. (Washington Times)

Perfect example. Keep calm and carry on.

Otto E. Mezzo

References: “Bills ‘decriminalizing’ libel a misnomer, says DOJ chief,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 7, 2012

Why terrorist attacks have quadrupled since 2001,” Frontpagemag.com, December 5, 2012

Aztecs hope to avoid potential trap game against Wyoming,” North County Times, November 23, 2012

Severe morning sickness: A problem for more than just Kate Middleton,” The Washington Times, December 3, 2012

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