A rhetorical term indicating a misuse, deliberate or not, of a figure of speech.

As, for example, the use of blatant to mean flagrant.

Or, as in MacArthur's farewell address, "I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears" (ears cannot be thirsty).

This rhetorical term has been employed by Michel Foucault as exemplary of one of the modes of development of writing, from synecdoche to metonymy to catachresis (or metaphor), the first two being examples of a substition of a "subject in lieu of the whole" and "a notable circumstance", whereas catachresis is a more figurative form of substition. Thus, catachresis represents for Foucault one of the important concepts of not only what writing is, but what it can be, because in this trope we have a linguistic displacement by which some order of things can be altered, or subverted.

See also Gayatri Spivak who catechretically refers to postcolonialism by use of this term.

At question for both of these writers is the standard interpretation of language that resists figurative speech (see Thomas Sprat on rhetoric), signified by Webster 1913 by the derisive term wrongly in the definition offered below.

Cat`a*chre"sis (?), n. [L. fr. Gr. misuse, fr. to misuse; against + to use.] Rhel.

A figure by which one word is wrongly put for another, or by which a word is wrested from its true signification; as, "To take arms against a sea of troubles.

" Shak. "Her voice was but the shadow of a sound." Young.

 

© Webster 1913.

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