Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Improper, unlawful, or incorrect use; misapplication.
  • transitive v. To use incorrectly.
  • transitive v. To mistreat or abuse. See Synonyms at abuse.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An incorrect, improper or unlawful use of something.
  • v. To use (something) incorrectly.
  • v. To abuse or mistreat (something or someone).
  • v. To abuse verbally, to insult.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Wrong use; misapplication; erroneous or improper use.
  • n. Violence, or its effects.
  • transitive v. To treat or use improperly; to use to a bad purpose; to misapply.
  • transitive v. To abuse; to treat ill.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To treat or use improperly; apply to an improper purpose; make a false or improper use of.
  • To use or treat badly; abuse or maltreat in act or speech.
  • Synonyms Abuse, Misuse. See abuse.
  • n. Improper use; misapplication; employment in a wrong way or to a bad purpose; perversion.
  • n. Abuse; ill treatment.
  • n. Synonyms Perversion, profanation, prostitution. See abuse, v. t.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. apply to a wrong thing or person; apply badly or incorrectly
  • n. improper or excessive use
  • v. change the inherent purpose or function of something

Etymologies

mis- + use {noun} (Wiktionary)
From mis- + use (verb) (Wiktionary)

Examples

Wordnik is becoming a not-for-profit! Read our announcement here.

Comments

Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Oh, why doesn't that guy just go back to his algorithms, already?

    October 13, 2007

  • Wha--?
    Oh, sorry! Professor von Schmartzenpanz took over my computer for a while.

    October 13, 2007

  • Cheese and rice, npydyuan--you're scaring the bejesus out of your fellow Wordies!

    October 13, 2007

  • How very esoteric of you. Oh wait, I can't use that word because it describes stuff and we don't believe in adjectives anymore. So... um... in my opinion, your statement has characteristics similar to that of a puzzle.

    October 13, 2007

  • That's right. I said it! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2007

  • Huhwhat?

    October 12, 2007

  • There's no such thing as adjectives.

    October 12, 2007

  • I definitely have a problem with people who helm movies. That doesn't even make any sense. *grumbles*

    October 12, 2007

  • Have you ever shipped a package? I bet nobody has a problem with that verb that came from a noun.

    October 12, 2007

  • Yeah, for some reason, "penned" is less odious to me. I'm not sure why. Maybe cuz it sounds all old-timey and stuff....

    October 12, 2007

  • How about pen? Have you ever penned a story?

    October 12, 2007

  • If you don't like people who "author" books, how about those folks who "helm" movies?

    October 12, 2007

  • See nounal. ;->

    September 22, 2007

  • another fascinating take on the evolution (or devolution) of language is in the novel "Cloud Atlas."

    *ramblehands*

    it's getting late where I am.

    September 22, 2007

  • You know what's just as irksome as verbing? Nouning. I HATE HATE HATE how everybody on the radio now says, "There's a disconnect...."

    That being said, I'm not sure I see the distinction between "sectors of society artificially forcing a change in usage...and the natural evolution of words." I mean, words, like organisms, flourish in certain environments at certain times. How can you pick and choose which sector's influence is "artificial" and which "natural?" It's all natural. (Some of it is just more asinine!)

    Oh, and my "favorite" example of verbing: "Authored." Why the #@$! can't you just say "wrote"?

    September 22, 2007

  • d'oh!

    September 22, 2007

  • You call it "Reesetee".

    September 22, 2007

  • You're very welcome.

    Sometimes I have to remind myself that English's parentage is beyond bastardy -- what do you call it when it's got a half dozen parents and none of them legitimate? :)

    September 22, 2007

  • Your cartoon was great colleen & it made an excellent point.

    September 22, 2007

  • On the contrary, palooka, I think you RAISED the level of discourse for a bit there. I. Well. I apologize for knocking it back down. :D

    September 22, 2007

  • This discussion is starting to circle the drain & I'm afraid it was my fault.

    September 22, 2007

  • Wordieing funs language.

    September 22, 2007

  • This is the value of Wordieing.

    September 22, 2007

  • And don't get me started on verbing words! ;->

    September 22, 2007

  • September 22, 2007

  • No intention of picking on you--those were just the two lists that popped into my head. :-)

    September 22, 2007

  • Seconded. And my own inner prescriptivist is duly noted. :-P

    September 22, 2007

  • That's a great point, palooka. I think that's where I see a rather bright line of distinction--maybe out of sheer annoyance. :-)

    September 22, 2007

  • Great discussion! Perhaps there's a difference between sectors of society artificially forcing a change in usage (as in the business world's annoying practice of turning nouns into verbs)and the natural evolution of words & their meanings. Language vivifies itself by evolving.

    September 22, 2007

  • I don't think The Language Instinct has ever been out of print. It didn't come out *that* long ago--only 13 years.

    Okay, that's a long time. But not in Bestseller Land. :-)

    As piddy wan ;-) and colleen mentioned, there's a little of the prescriptivist in all of us. Otherwise, why would we see lists like "Why Can't People Pronounce These Properly?" and "Redundant and Repetitive"?

    September 22, 2007

  • I didn't know it was still in print, honestly. It came out when I was a freshman in college and I have never met another person who was not a linguist that had read it. Bless the internets! :D

    September 22, 2007

  • If "The Language Instinct" ever goes out of print, I may just give up reading entirely.

    September 22, 2007

  • Having just outed myself as a Star Wars Dork, I will now proceed hence. :D

    September 22, 2007

  • I guess so, sure. But I have no affiliation with the Wookieepedia!

    September 22, 2007

  • Or like "padawan"?

    September 22, 2007

  • The Language Instinct seems to be available through Amazon.

    ps: I usually pronounce it something like "piddy wan."

    :-D

    September 22, 2007

  • One of the most fascinating reads ever is Pinker's "The Language Instinct." I'm not sure if it's still in print, but I really recommend it.

    Uselessness, I hear what you're saying and you're right, of course. As npydyuan (how on earth do you pronounce that?!) said, we all have some hot-button (mis)uses, and meme happens to be one of them for me.

    September 22, 2007

  • I think we, as humans, an interpersonal species, all desire Effective Language. For language to be effective, the most "correct" definition of a word is the one the most people understand it to mean. If a definition changes over time, it's not changing of its own mysterious volition -- it's merely a reflection of the people who use it. And if among those people there's a consensus that the new definition is right, it is. Resisting that natural evolution only serves to impede Effective Language.

    Essentially, the best thing for Effective Language is to let it figure itself out, not steer it in an artificial direction chosen by a pedantic minority... it's a perfect example of the self-stabilizing properties of laissez-faire economics, applied to communication. Don't fight it! ;-)

    If most people think "beg the question" means one thing, they are right by virtue of that fact alone. Whether we like it or not. :-P

    (Edit: Months ago, I left a comment on beg the question that I had forgotten about until I clicked it here, and by some strange coincidence it also mentions "laissez-faire linguistics," a phrase I thought I made up just now. Guess I'm not so clever after all. Most interesting of all is that nine months ago, I apparently had the opposite opinion of what I'm saying now. How fickle can I be?!)

    (Edit #2: Oh, looks like that text in my old comment was just copied from another web site. I didn't think those sounded like my words. So maybe I'm not that fickle? I hope?)

    September 22, 2007

  • Even the most bleeding-heart adaptivist among us probably harbors a secret list, longer than he or she might want to admit, of words that "don't and ought not to"! :-)

    September 22, 2007

  • I think that there are words which change meanings over time and adaption, and there are words that don't and ought not to! Y/N? Is my shameful inner prescriptivist getting the better of me? :D

    September 22, 2007

  • Excellent discussion! (And as an editor, I know a little about "misuse.") Npydyuan makes a good point: Clarity does depend, in part, on matching use with audience. And uselessness, I also like your comparison to programming and the goal of achieving an absolute logic. In my view, one of my jobs is to strike just the right tone, somewhere between language used as "art supplies" (I love that analogy, by the way) and precise but nonetheless elegant usage.

    And this is why I love Wordie. *removes spectacles, puts pen in pocket, steps down from podium*

    September 22, 2007

  • That imprecision is why I pointed to chaordic. Our vision is too impaired to parse every wavelength in the spectrum. This "communication" program is insanely vast and complex, but it's all encoded "out there" somewhere, on a universal scale.

    Maybe. :-)

    (As a non-programmer almost fetishistically enamored of programming analogies, my understanding of what I'm actually talking about is always suspect.)

    September 22, 2007

  • Good analogy of misuse being like a bug in code. As a programmer, I know a thing or two about bugs! But with programming, there is a goal to shoot for: perfect logic. When your code is perfectly logical, there are no bugs. So the game becomes finding the bad logic, and fixing it. Communication, on the other hand, is much more subjective. There is no absolute standard to shoot for. Sure, we all want to communicate with clarity, but exactly how to do that is different in every scenario.

    In other words, clarity is not black-and-white, it's a spectrum with many shades of gray. So aren't absolutist terms like use and misuse (read: "correct" and "incorrect") impractical here? For sure, there are always "better" or "worse" ways to express an idea, but never a "right" or "wrong" way. I (personally) think communication is way too imprecise to compare to a mathematical equation.

    September 22, 2007

  • I view language as art supplies AND mathematical equations.... cf. uselessness's excellent "computer physics model" on chaordic

    September 22, 2007

  • I don't think there's any inherent misuse that's worth worrying about. To me, rules of language are an interpretation of the current situation (a schema?) rather than an authoritarian prescription. I'd say a misuse is more like a bug in one's code. A mismatch between usage and intended audience, or a misapprehension of the mindset of the intended audience, or even a mismatch between intended audience and actual audience, as a result of foreshortened foresight on the part of the developer (author).

    September 22, 2007

  • Yeah, it's funny, I'd expect to see a bunch of grammar-stickler, by-the-book types around here... but actually we seem to be quite the opposite. Which is a pleasant surprise. I think Wordies are generally very laid-back with language: we view it as art supplies, not as mathematical equations. Communication is what you make it!

    September 22, 2007

  • I think a lot of people here are doing their best to make language adapt as fast as possible :-)

    September 22, 2007

  • In terms of words, misuse I think is becoming a shakier idea. Meanings of words change fast, and if an intended audience understands a particular usage, is there a misuse? Do others feel that language is becoming more adaptable as time goes by?

    September 22, 2007