Misnomers and misleading words in English


Misnomer - a word's meaning or usage doesn't align perfectly with its etymology or literal interpretation. A noun that refers to a wrong, misleading, or inappropriate use of a name or designation. It's also used to refer to the misleading name or designation itself.

What are some examples of misnomers? There are plenty, so here are a few:

  • Pineapple - not related to Pine trees nor apples, but the name may have come from its appearance being something like a pinecone.
  • Strawberry - a fruit with its seeds strewn (straw) throughout it
  • America - used as the name of the country with the name The United States of America (emphasis mine, "of" is, in this context, a preposition of location)
  • Indian (not from India) - the word 'Indian' was applied to the native indigenous people of the new world by Cristo Colon (Christopher Colombus) because he screwed up and landed, not in India as expected, but in the islands of the Caribbean
  • Bald Eagle - obviously not bald
  • Redhead - the person's head is not red, only their hair is
  • Kangaroo Rat - is a rodent with no relationship to Kangaroos other than the fact that they hop
  • Starfish - not a fish, its an echinoderm
  • Peanuts - not nuts but rather legumes (lentils, peas, beans, etc)
  • Horseshoe Crab - not a crab
  • Vitamin D - not a true vitamin because it is produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight
  • Hamburger - did not originate in Hamburg (Germany), nor does it contain ham
  • Grapefruit - has no relationship to grapes
  • French fries - not from France, but more likely from Belguim
  • Lead Pencil - contains no lead
  • Titmouse (bird) - has no relationship with mice
  • White Chocolate - does not contain chocolate, but rather only the stuff removed from the chocolate-producing process - the cocoa butter
  • Tin cans - not tin, but rather - steel with a very thin coating of tin
  • Buffalo Wings - while tasty, are chicken, not buffalo
  • Buffalo, New York - no buffalo ever lived in this part of the country, it's probably a mashing of the French words beau fleuve (beautiful river, aka Buffalo Creek)
  • Cat burglar - the perps are obviously not cats
  • Tin foil - is aluminum, not tin
  • Streamroller - not steam powered anymore, that was many years ago
  • butterfly - not flys and they don't eat butter, the name comes from two Old English words that were combined - butere and fleoge
  • Coat of Arms - not a coat and does not have arms, in this case, the word 'arms' refers to weapons. Going back to the 14th century, Knights had a symbol embroidered denoting their family descent or alliance on their surcoat
  • Ladybug - half the time, this is a misnomer because there are male versions of 'lady'bugs
  • Light-year - is a measurement of distance, not time
  • Koala Bear - not a bear, it's a marsupial
  • Chinese checkers - not from China, it's from Germany in 1892, and it's not related to checkers
  • Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5...) - originated in India, not the Arabian Peninsula
  • Glowworms - are larvae, not worms
  • Fireflies - they are beetles, not flys and don't spew fire
  • Horned Toad - a lizard
  • Velvet Ants - are wasps, not ants
  • Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries - not berries
  • bananas, pumpkins, avocados, watermelons, and cucumbers - are berries
  • French Horn and English Horn - not from either of those countries, they are both variants of the German Horn

There are also misleading names commonly used in historical events, such as

  • Hundred Year War between England and France lasted for 116 years
  • The Thousand Days' War in Colombia lasted for 1,130 days
  • The Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolutionary War was fought near Breed's Hill
  • Thousand Islands archipelago along the U.S.-Canadian border - has 1864 islands

What else did I find, let's see, oh - centipedes don't have exactly 100 legs, it's simply not possible. Why? because all centipedes have an odd number of segments, so an even number of 100 is not possible. How many legs do they really have? Anywhere between 30 - 354. And, millipedes, we were taught, have 1000 feet, but no, not a one has more than 750.

The Canary Islands are not named after the birds that live there, nope, the name comes from the Latin Canariae Insulae which means Island of the Dogs. The birds that live on the island became known as Canaries later.

There are many, many more misnomers, especially regarding animals and creatures. In other words, English is laden with many misnomers.