from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • transitive verb To use incorrectly.
  • transitive verb To mistreat or abuse. synonym: abuse.
  • noun Improper, unlawful, or incorrect use; misapplication.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • noun Improper use; misapplication; employment in a wrong way or to a bad purpose; perversion.
  • noun Abuse; ill treatment.
  • noun Synonyms Perversion, profanation, prostitution. See abuse, v. t.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

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

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun An incorrect, improper or unlawful use of something.
  • verb transitive To use (something) incorrectly.
  • verb transitive To abuse or mistreat (something or someone).
  • verb obsolete, transitive To abuse verbally, to insult.

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

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


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From mis- + use (verb)

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

mis- + use {noun}



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  • 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

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

    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 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

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

    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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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