2.20 – Catachresis

Catachresis is really tough to define. It’s not even in Abram’s A Glossary of Literary Terms. So, I had to rely on Wikipedia and a knock-off-wikipedia.

Catachresis, in brief:

1: use of the wrong word for the context

2: use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech (as “blind mouths”)

Basically, it seems like catachresis is a catch-all term for extreme mixed metaphors, synesthesia (where one sensory experience is described in terms of another), paradoxes, contradictions, words/phrases created for concepts or objects that have no ‘actual’ name, and other big misuses of words.

Sometimes catachresis is used purposely for poetic effect. Sometimes, apparently, it is the result of ‘mistakes.’

13_2_wed_error_mixed_metaphor teaser

An item in Thursday’s Nation Digest about the Massachusetts budget crisis made reference to new taxes that will help put Massachusetts “back in the African American.”  The item should have said “back in the black.”
—correction in the Fresno Bee (reported by http://stupidest.com/stupidest-newspaper-corrections/)

If you wanted to compose using catachresis, I think it would be easy online to juxtapose words and images in ways that seem contradictory or “wrong” in the conventional sense. You might also come up with a list of idioms, splice them up, and recombine them. From what I understand, catachresis needs to seem ‘wrong’ in order to deserve the name; interesting juxtapositions aren’t quite enough.

Rene Magritte

Rene Magritte — Surrealist painter

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