Word of the week: Catachresis


The name of many different types of figure of speech which all have in common that they are using words “wrongly”.

Some Possibilities:
1) The use of a new, never seen before phrase or word. Catachresis is similar to a neologism, but catachresis also includes new phrases.
2) Crossing categorical boundaries with words, because there otherwise would be no suitable word. (like referring to the “legs” of a chair”)
3) A paradox (Milton’s “darkness visible”)
4) A mingling of metaphors (Shakespeare’s “To take arms against a sea of troubles…”)
5) Replacing an expected word with another, half rhyming word, with an entirely different meaning from what one would expect. (“I’m ‘ravished’!” for “I’m ravenous!” or for “I’m famished!” )
6) Using an established word or phrase in the wrong context (“Can’t you hear that? Are you blind?”)
7) The farfetched use of an already existing word or phrase. (Shakespeare again: “Tis deepest winter in Lord Timon’s purse”)
8) A blatant euphemism. (Dead people within a cemetery being referred to as “inhabitants”.)
9) The replacement of a word with a more ambiguous synonym.
10) According to Derrida, a reference to the original incompleteness that is a part of all systems of meaning, or a word with an arbitrary connection to its meaning.

Apparently taking points 2 and 10 into consideration, the artist Amalia Pica turned this literary term into visual representations in her ‘Catachresis’ series which, like much of her work, explores the miscommunication inherent to both language and art.

This, then, is what catachresis look like as contemporary art:

Catachresis #9 (legs of the table, the neck of the bottle, the elbow of the pipe, the leg of the chair), 2011

Catachresis #33 (legs of the table, tongue of the shoe), 2013

Catachresis #35 (legs of chair, teeth of the rake, eye of the potato, eye of the needle), 2013.


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