20. Misnomers & Meaning-changed words

Posted: 2013 年 12 月 28 日 in Logology

Misnomers refer to a wrong or inaccurate name or designation. For example, the expression black box to describe a recording device on airplanes is related to death and destruction but doesn’t relate to the color of the device, which is orange, to make it conspicuous among wreckage.

  1. Blackboards can be blue or green.

  2. Black boxes on large airplanes are orange.

  3. Peanuts aren’t peas or nuts; they are legumes.

  4. English muffins weren’t invented in England but in America.

  5. French fries weren’t invented in France but in Belgium.

  6. The second hand on a watch is the third hand.

  7. Mobile homes got the name from the name of the place where they were first mass produced: Mobile, Alabama.

  8. A jackrabbit is a hare; a Belgian hare is a rabbit; Welsh rabbit is a cheese dish.

  9. Bloodhounds are so named not because of their special ability to smell blood but because they were the first breed of dog whose blood or breeding records were maintained.

  10. Arabic numerals are from India.

  11. Brown bears aren’t always brown but can be white, cream, brown, cinnamon, and blue.

  12. Fireflies aren’t flies but beetles; a guinea pig is not a pig or from Guinea but a South American rodent; a titmouse isn’t a mouse but a bird.

  13. Quicksand works slowly.

  14. Boxing rings are square.

  15. When people say that they could care less, they mean they couldn’t care less.

  16. When people say that someone wants to have his cake and eat it too (an everyday occurence), they mean that someone wants to eat his cake and have it too (an impossibility).

  17. A near miss is a near hit.

  18. Things don’t really fall between the cracks but through the cracks.

  19. People don’t cross bridges but whatever is under the bridges and perpendicular to the bridges.

  20. Doughnut holes aren’t holes but what fills them.

  21. Announcements aren’t made by nameless officials but by unnamed officials.

  22. People can’t put their best foot forward, only the better one.

  23. When people do things behind your back, they have no choice because they can’t do things in front of your back.

  24. The Canary Islands weren’t named after canary birds but after dogs, the extinct race of large dogs (Latin Canis) that once roamed there. The bird is named after the Canary Islands.

  25. Technically, there is no such thing as the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the Medal of Honor, though it is presented “in the name of the Congress of the United States.”


Words are alive. They are born; they often change, and they sometimes die. Sometimes the meanings of words have changed so much that they can now be used to describe the opposite of what they originally described. These are all meaning-changed words.

  1. awful: The word once meant “full of awe, awe-inspiring” and could describe very good things. Now it usually means “terrible.”

  2. bully: In the sixteenth century, the word meant “a sweetheart” or “fine fellow.” Accordingly, Shakespeare has a character in Henry V say: “I love the lovely bully.” The term came to have its current sense by association with swashbucklers and hired ruffians.

  3. girl: In the thirteenth century, a girl could denote a “youth,” whether a boy or a maiden. To prevent possible ambiguity, people would usually refer to a boy as a knave girl. The word girls usually meant “children.” The current use of girl dates from the sixteenth century.

  4. idiot: Although many of us today believe that idiots are disproportionately represented in public office, ancient Greeks would use the term–from the root idios (private)–to designate those who didn’t hold public office. Because such people were regarded as having no special skill or status, the word gradually fell into disrepute.

  5. passenger: In the fourteenth century, the word, which literally means “one who is passing,” was used to refer to any traveler, often one on foot. Although the current sense arose in the sixteenth century, the word was used in its “pedestrain” sense as late as the nineteenth century.

  6. restive: Although the word now means “not wanting to rest” and “uneasy,” in the seventeenth century it meant “wanting to rest,” “not wishing to move,” and “inactive.”

  7. with: The word once meant–you may not believe this–“against.” In Old English, with denoted opposition, producing the following paradoxical-sounding idioms: compete with, contend with, fight with, quarrel with, and struggle with. The Old English word for the current meaning of with was mid (comparable to modern German mit). In the twelfth or thirteenth century with lost its “against” meaning and acquired the meaning of the Old English mid. Because of its older meaning, alive in expressions such as fight with, the word with is a contronym, carrying contrary or opposite meanings.




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