A misnomer is a word or term used to suggest a meaning that is not really true – misnomer doesn’t mean “misunderstanding” or “popular misconception”, as it is often implied on the internet. Most of the times, misnomers just cause some confusion and a wrong perception and sometimes those ideas get burned into the popular opinion, so it can be quite a big deal. So, here are just some of the most awesome misnomers.
Peanuts are not actually nuts – they are legumes, part of the same family as beans and peas. The coconut is also not a real nut – but the fruit of a palm tree.
The Koala bear is not a bear. OK, the hints were there – bears tend to be big, muscular and quite dangerous, while the koala… looks like this. The koala is actually a herbivorous marsupial, more related to kangaroos than bears.
The “lead” in pencils is actually not lead – it’s a mixture of graphite and clay. Graphite was initially thought to be lead ore, but of course, now we know that this is not the case.
French horns originated in Germany, not France. Early metal horns were less complex than modern horns, consisting of brass tubes with a slightly flared opening (the bell) wound around a few times.
Tin foil is not actually tin – it’s aluminum. Tin cans do have some tin, but contain more steel than tin.
Chinese checkers didn’t originate in China, nor in any part of Asia. It actually originated in Germany. The name “Chinese Checkers” originated in the United States as a marketing scheme by Bill and Jack Pressman in 1928.
The horned toad is actually a lizard, not a toad. Still, only some call it the horned toad, the other generally accepted name is the Texas road lizard.
The Velvet ant is actually a wisp. Black and white specimens are sometimes known as panda ants due to their hair coloration resembling that of the Chinese giant panda.
If you thought the French horn was strange, you’ll love this one: the English horn is neither English, nor a horn. The term cor anglais is French for English horn, but the instrument originated in Silesia (today’s Poland) and is more an oboe than a horn.
The Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus) did not originate in Norway, but in North China.
Strawberries are not real berries. In fact, neither are bayberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
Arabic numerals (you know, 1, 2, 3…) weren’t developed by the Arabians, but by the Indians. Europeans weren’t really good at telling the difference at the time.
The funny bone is not a bone – the phrase refers to the ulnar nerve, as we detailed previously on this post.
Head cheese is not cheese, but meat.
Telephone numbers are dialed, but we don’t have dial phones any more.
Dry cleaning is not dry – it doesn’t involve water, but it includes a lot of liquid solvents.
So, there are just the ones I thought about – do you know any other misnomers that are not on this list? Write us a message and we’ll add them! In the meantime, feel free to use this to impress your friends.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.