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[mis-noh-mer] /mɪsˈnoʊ mər/
a misapplied or inappropriate name or designation.
an error in naming a person or thing.
late Middle English
1425-75; late Middle English < Anglo-French, noun use of Middle French mesnomer ‘to misname’, equivalent to mes- mis-1 + nomer < Latin nōmināre; see nominate
Can be confused
misnomer, mistake (see confusables note at the current entry)
Confusables note
Misnomer is not a fancy, more elevated word for mistake. Nor is it a synonym for misstatement, misconception, or misunderstanding. As the word's Latin etymon nōmināre (‘to name’) tells us, a misnomer is a special kind of mistake: a wrong name. The consequences of a mistake can range from trivial to catastrophic—from typos to train wrecks. But a misnomer is often just embarrassing, like trying to impress a friend by referrring to a Burgundy wine as a “Bordeaux.” Sometimes, however, what began as a misnomer has become a standard term: the game of Chinese checkers does not come from China; the funny bone is a nerve, not a bone; hay fever is not caused by hay and is not a fever; and a pregnant woman's morning sickness can occur at any time of day. Other kinds of mistakes or misunderstandings—giving a driver wrong directions, thinking that the earth is flat, drawing an erroneous conclusion—are not misnomers. In fact, the word misnomer when used to describe a behavioral mistake or a misperception of reality is itself a misnomer! Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for misnomer
  • Early archaeologists can be forgiven the misnomer, though.
  • The good news is that the title of this book is a bit of a misnomer, since it isn't a fad diet consisting only of rice.
  • The name, however, is a bit of a misnomer.
  • In the first place, summer radish is a misnomer.
  • Or it might be an outright misnomer.
  • Chronic fatigue is in part a misnomer.
  • Certainly, in some cases, graphic "artist" is a misnomer.
  • Copy cat is a misnomer because cats never copy anybody.
  • In the zero-sum game of the drug trade, one gang's loss is another's gain (which is why “drug cartel” is such a misnomer).
  • The prevalent confusion stems partly from a misnomer.
British Dictionary definitions for misnomer


an incorrect or unsuitable name or term for a person or thing
the act of referring to a person by the wrong name
Word Origin
C15: via Anglo-Norman from Old French mesnommer to misname, from Latin nōmināre to call by name
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for misnomer

mid-15c., "mistaken identification of an accused or convicted person," from Anglo-French, Old French mesnomer "to misname, wrongly name," noun use of infinitive, from mes- "wrongly" (see mis- (2)) + nomer "to name," from Latin nominare "nominate" (see nominate). For noun use of French infinitives, cf. waiver.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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