Is there a term for "false synonymy"?
July 29, 2009 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Is there a term for the fallacy of "false synonymy", where two different words are treated as if they mean the same thing? "False synonymy" sounds like a good term for it, but Google only turns up 135 hits.
posted by Dr. Send to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What do you mean by "fallacy" here? It's not a recognized logical fallacy, if that's what you mean.
posted by nasreddin at 10:19 AM on July 29, 2009

Can you give an example? From studying foreign languages, I know the term "false cognates", where two words that sound similar in different languages actually have different roots and meanings, but that doesn't sound like what you're looking for.
posted by muddgirl at 10:19 AM on July 29, 2009

Can you explain? There are many different words that mean the same thing....
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:22 AM on July 29, 2009

Do you mean, for instance, when people use the word "intricate" as though it meant "integral"? As in "mathematics is an intricate part of physics"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 AM on July 29, 2009

Are you looking for malapropism?

Or are you just referring to a confusion like nauseous/nauseated?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:27 AM on July 29, 2009

This is just "people thinking a word means something it doesn't", right?

As defined in your question, this seems to have nothing to do with words sounding similar (as in malapropisms, false cognates, intricate/integral and nauseous/nauseated, etc).
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:30 AM on July 29, 2009

Or do you mean someone making an argument and equating two non-congruent terms? "Of course Dr. Jones is an expert on psychology--she's a neurologist"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2009

Seriously — as defined in your question, it's called "a mistake". Think about it: in all cases where something is a recognized kind of fallacy or named kind of error, there's a flawed but persuasive-seeming reason for making the error. So in malapropisms, for example, that reason is the similar sound of the words. In false friends, it's the sounds of the words or their appearance on the page. In your question, you don't mention any particular type of persuasive-seeming reason, and so there's no way for us here to describe what you're talking about except as "a mistake".
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2009

I think you're talking about eggcorns.
posted by rusty at 10:46 AM on July 29, 2009

You mean like disorganized and unorganized?
Unorganized means you don't belong to a union.
Trouble is, usage influences meaning, so eventually I could care less means exactly the same thing as I couldn't care less, which is weird.
And flammable is a neologism that means the same thing as inflammable, because many people don't understand what inflammable means.

I would call it mistaken identity, just as with people.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:46 AM on July 29, 2009

Do you mean like with the word niggardly?
posted by bluedaisy at 10:49 AM on July 29, 2009

You mean conflation, right?
posted by doteatop at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2009

I take it Sidhedevil's interpretation of the question is correct. If so, it's like equivaction, but with two different words (assuming certain definitions of a "word"). It's a species of begging the question because it assumes facts yet to be proven, namely, that the words mean the same thing.
posted by smorange at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2009

on postview: conflation covers it, too.
posted by smorange at 10:55 AM on July 29, 2009

Yeah, I'm thinking pretty much along the lines of what Sidhedevil said, and I agree with Smorange that it is kind of like equivocation, only in reverse. Looking at these answers, conflation does seem like the best term, even though it seems blindingly obvious in retrospect. Thanks everyone.
posted by Dr. Send at 11:05 AM on July 29, 2009

"Conflation" is good, as is "false equation." It's a fallacy of definition, but I don't think there's a formal term for it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on July 29, 2009

IIRC, in copy-editing, the symbol for this is "ww," which means "wrong word." I've only seen "conflation" used to connect concepts which do not share the attributes required to be combined in context.
posted by rhizome at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2009

There is also the term "Eggcorns", but it's more related with expressions than just one word.

It's still pretty neat reading though!
posted by fantasticninety at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2009

Or as someone at my place of work wrote this week, "It must be an era."
posted by tamitang at 10:09 PM on July 29, 2009

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