In the last few decades, people have taken to creating new terms that, while not always accurate, have taken hold broadly to mean something specific. In most cases, no word may have previously existed for the exact idea or item. The term “African American” has been one of those. It’s been used to describe only the darkest people whose ancestors came from the African continent. Currently, it’s falling out of use, replaced by a more inclusive “people of color.” Oddly, we haven’t ever used “African” in regard to people from Algeria, Libya, or Egypt. Instead, we use the term “Middle Eastern,” and, admittedly, the Middle East consists of African and Asian countries. If someone told you a person from Iran was Asian, you would technically be correct, but that term has been used to describe people from countries farther to the east, like China, Japan, and Vietnam.
What about America? Most of us say we are “Americans.” Our countrymen know we mean “the USA.” But Brazilians or Colombians would be justified by this logic to call themselves “Americans,” as would people in any of the countries in North, Central, and South America. Even so, with all these misnomers, most of us don’t complain, and we know what it means.
Countries and continents make up only a few of the common misnomers. There are some you might not realize are wrong, but accept anyway. “Chinese checkers” isn’t Chinese and was created in Germany. Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are not “berries” but are fruits, though they resemble berries to a degree. Peanuts are not nuts but “drupes,” such as dates and olives, even though they grow underground. One of our favorite finger foods is “Buffalo wings.” Huh? Oh! My wife says they were invented at a bar in the City of Buffalo, New York. She’d already looked it up, wondering about flying buffaloes with teeny wings.
Some terms have been adopted when a specific product brand name has dominated the marketplace. Think of Frigidaire for refrigerators, Ziplocks, Chapstick, Jello, Google, and Coke. “Coke” earned the distinction of referring to any carbonated soft drink and cocaine. Have you heard or read someone answer a question by telling the person to “Google” it?
My shopping list does not read “facial tissue,” “cotton swabs,” or “permanent markers.” I do what most do and type “Kleenex,” “Q-tips,” and “Sharpies.” If we’re naming something, and we all agree on the meaning and use it widely, even if it is technically incorrect per the dictionary, would it be a misnomer? Maybe not.
A whole new breed of slang words to name things very accurately is being coined by the young. They are typically a combination of two words blending the concept of both, often quite funny, and some end up in the mainstream, even added to dictionaries. Some fine examples are: Destinesia – arriving at a place you’d planned to go but forgot why you went there in the first place. Hangry – being so hungry you are irritable. Unkeyboardinated – when a person repeatedly makes typing errors. Nomonym – a food that tastes like another food. Many of us have been guilty of “cupidity” – doing stupid things because we are in love.