One word changed for another only remotely connected with it.

Cat’-a-chree-sis, Greek, κατάχρησις, from κατά (kata), against, and χρῆσθαι (chreesthai), to use. Hence, misuse.

Catachresis is a figure by which one word is changed for another,
and this against or contrary to the ordinary usage and meaning of it.
The word that is changed is transferred from its strict and usual signification
to another that is only remotely connected with it.
Hence called by the Latins ABUSIO, abuse.

In METONYMY there is a relation between the two words.
In SYNECDOCHE there is some association between them.
In HENDIADYS there is a real connection between them.
But in CATACHRESIS all this is wanting, and the two words or meanings,
though they may have between them something remotely akin or analogous,
yet have no real or strict relation; and the connection is often incongruous.

When man uses this figure, it may often be from ignorance or through carelessness, but often with good effect. Attention is sometimes arrested by a delightful incongruity, as when Young writes:
Her voice was but the shadow of a sound”:
where the sense is very forcibly conveyed by changing the ordinary usage of the word “shadow.”
Sorrow was big at her heart.”
Or when we say that a thing is “beautiful to the ear,” or “melodious to the eye”; or, when we apply the word “sweet” to things other than articles of food which we taste.

But, when the Holy Spirit uses this figure, it is in order to arrest us; and to attract our attention, by the apparent incongruity, and thus fix it on what He says.

Sometimes the translators introduce a Catachresis, where there is none in the Original: e.g., in Ex. 38:8, they say: “Moses made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass out of the looking-glasses of the women.” (But see margin.)
The R.V. avoids this by rendering the word correctly “mirrors.”

The figure does not mislead; it merely acts as spice or condiment does to food.

Catachresis is of three kinds: —
1. Of two words, where the meanings are remotely akin.
2. Of two words, where the meanings are different.
3. Of one word, where the Greek receives its real meaning by permutation from the Hebrew, or some other language, or foreign usage.


Lev. 26:30 — “I will cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols.”
Here the word “carcase” is changed from its strictly correct application,
to flesh and blood, and its use applied to the fragments of wood or stone of an idol.

Num. 9:18 — “At the mouth of Jehovah.”
Here it is translated “commandment”: but the figure arrests us; and points us to the Divine Source of the command as opposed to any human injunction.
See Epistrophe.

Deut. 16:7 — “And thou shalt cook and eat it in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose.”
Both A.V. and R.V. render it “roast.” The latter however puts seethe in the margin. “Seethe” is sometimes used for cook: and thus there is a remote connection with roast, as commanded,
in Exod. 12:8,9. So 1 Sam. 2:15. Compare Joel 3:13 (4:13). **
** The Book Of Joel only has 3 chapters, therefore the reference to 4:13 may seem puzzling. This is not a mistake on Dr. Bullinger’s part, only a reference by him to Gesenius’s Lexicon, where it is listed as such, and should read 3:13.

Deut. 32:14 — “Thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape.”

Here “blood” is used by Catachresis, For, as “blood” is that which comes from man,
so the juice is that which comes from the grape. There is an incongruity, because the two are only remotely akin. But our attention is attracted to what is being said.

2 Sam. 23:17 — “Is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?”
The water which the three mighty men brought to David is called their blood: and thus, in one incongruous word, is eloquently expressed the shedding of their own blood, which the men had risked for David’s sake.

Job 4:12 —“Now a word was brought by stealth to me.”
This is a most unusual way of describing an angelic communication.

Psa. 74:1 — “Why doth thine anger smoke against the sheep of thy pasture?”

Psa. 80:4 (5) —“How long wilt thou smoke against the prayer of thy people?” (margin).
Used by Catachresis for the heat of anger. (See YLT and DBY )

Psa. 88:5 — “Free among the dead”: i.e., set at liberty is put by Catachresis for cast off, deserted.

Isa. 62:5 — “For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee.”
To speak of sons marrying their mother is incongruous, and yet what else could be said? How else could it be expressed? But בָּעַל (baal) means not only to marry, but to possess; or as we express it “to have and to hold” in possession. This is the primitive and proper meaning of the word, and to marry is only a secondary usage. It means to have, own, possess. See 1 Chron. 4:22, “who had the dominion in Moab”; Isa. 26:13 — “other lords beside thee have had dominion over us.”

It is from not seeing the beautiful figure Catachresis here, by which, through what looks like an incongruity, that Bishop Lowth and others suggest an emendation of the Hebrew Text, by reading בֹּנָיִךְ (bonahyik), thy builders, for בָּנַיִךְ (bahnayik), thy sons. The change is plausible; but it is destitute of any MS. or other ancient authority; and such arbitrary alterations of the Text are to be deprecated, being purely conjectural. Moreover, it is unnecessary, for the builder is not necessarily the possessor or the owner. The apparent incongruity of the figure arrests our attention; and, when we give the attention which is thus demanded, we find the passage means that as a young man marries a virgin, so shall Zion’s sons hold her in sure and happy possession.

Hos. 14:2 (3) — “So will we render the calves of our lips”: i.e., our lips as sacrifices.
See under Metonymy; and compare Heb. 13:15.

Matt. 12:5 — “On the sabbath days the Priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless.”
It sounds incongruous to state this as a fact: but it expresses what was true according to the mistaken notions of the Pharisees as to manual works performed on the sabbath.

Rom. 7:23 — “I see another law in my members.”
He means that he sees sin: which, through the authority with which it rules his members, he calls, by Catachresis, “law.”
See under Antanaclasis.

1 Cor. 1:25 — “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” It is incongruous to speak of “foolishness” or “weakness” with respect to God. So we are arrested by the use of this figure Catachresis.

Col. 3:5 — “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.”
The members which commit the sins are put by a forcible Catachresis for the sins themselves. For the sins are immediately enumerated, not the members.
See chap. 2:11.


Exod. 5:21 — “Ye have made our savour to stink in the eyes of Pharaoh.”
Here “stink” and “eyes” are incongruously conjoined to call our attention to the highest degree of abhorrence.

Exod. 20:18 (15) — “And all the people saw the thunderings.”
Here seeing is joined to what was only heard. But see under Zeugma, by which one verb is made to go with two different nouns.
(See Rev. 1:12 below).

Mark 7:21, 22 — “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts … an evil eye.”
Here the Catachresis is only in appearance, as “an evil eye” is put by Metonymy for envy, which does proceed out of the heart.
Compare Matt. 20:15, and see further under Asyndeton.

1 Tim. 6:19 — “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
Here the “laying up treasure” is joined with “foundation,” and “laying hold” is joined with the house which is from heaven. 2 Cor. 5:2.

Rev. 1:12 — “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me.”
Here “voice” is put by Metonymy (q.v.), for the person speaking. Apart from this, there is a Catachresis; seeing being joined with that which is invisible and only heard. (See Exod. 20:18.)


Matt. 8:6; Acts 4:27 — Where παῖς (pais), a child, is used of a servant, from the Hebrew נַעַר (nahar), which has both meanings. The A.V. renders it “servant” in Matt., and “child” in Acts; while the R.V. renders it “servant” in both places, spelling it in Acts “Servant.”

Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21; Rom. 14:11; Heb. 13:15 — ὁμολογεῖν (homologein), to confess, is used of to praise or celebrate, like the Hebrew הוֹדָה (hōdah) which has both meanings.
See Gen. 49:8; 2 Sam. 22:50.

Matt. 24:29 — “And the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.”
Here, δυνάμεις (dunameis), powers, means really armies, from the Hebrew הַיִל (chayeel) which has both meanings.

Matt. 28:1 — μία (mia), one, is the Greek cardinal numeral, but it is used here for the ordinal, first, like the Hebrew אֶחָד (echad), which has both meanings.
See Gen. 1:5, etc. (See Mark 16:9.)

Luke 1:37 — “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
Here, ῥῆμα (rheema), word or saying, is used for thing, the Hebrew דָּבָר (davar) having both meanings. The R.V. renders ῥῆμα literally; at the expense of forcing the word ἀδυνατήσει (adunateesei), shall be impossible; which it renders
“shall be void of power.”

Luke 16:17 — “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass than one tittle of the law to fail.”
Here, πίπτειν (piptein), to fall or fail, is used for not to be fulfilled, or to be of no effect
(Rom. 9:6; 1 Sam. 3:19). The Hebrew נָפַל (naphal) has both meanings.
See Josh. 23:14; Est. 6:10.
The reference to the “tittle” is interesting, and very beautifully includes both the meanings.

The קֶרֶן (cheren), horn, is called in the Greek κεραία (keraia), little horn תַּאֲגִים (taageem), little crowns.*
*The plural of קֶרֶן (cheren), horn, is קְרָנוֹת (ch’rahnoth), horns.

The Massorah explains that the little horn or crown is an ornament or little flourish (something like a tiny fleur-de-lis, of various forms, or a mere hair-line flourish) placed above certain letters and coming out from their top, according to certain definite and prescribed rules. Thus the common fancy, which is as old as Jerome, is exploded: which explained the “tittle” as being the difference between two similar letters: e.g., Daleth (ד) and Resh (ר); Beth (ב) and Kaph (כ), etc. The meaning of the passage is that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one of these Taagim, or little crowns to fall, or for the minutest word of God not to be fulfilled.

Acts 10:22; Luke 1:6; 2:25 —
δίκαιος (dikaios), which is an adjective, and means strictly righteous, is used generally for a good man, like the Heb., צַדִּיק (tzaddeek), which has both meanings.

Acts 13:34 — “The sure mercies of David.”
Here the words τὰ ὅσια (ta hosia), holy or just things, are used for promises made,
and mercies vouchsafed, in pure grace; the Heb. חֲסָדִים (chasadeem), having both meanings. The quotation is from Isa. 55:3; and the reference is to Jehovah’s unconditional covenant made with David in 2 Sam. 7.

The passage means “I will give to you the faithful promises made to David.” The A.V. gives an unusually long marginal note; and the R.V. renders it “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David”; which is very laboured and obscure, compared with the simplicity of meaning conveyed and brought out by the figure Catachresis, which shows that 2 Sam. 7 as in question, and the holy things, i.e., the promises, there made in grace to David.


1 Cor. 2:6 — “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect.”
Here the word τέλειος (teleios) receives its true meaning, initiated, from the Greek mysteries, where it was used of one who had been initiated into them.


1 Cor. 15:54 — “Death is swallowed up in victory”: i.e., for ever, as the Heb.נֶצַח (netzach) means, as well as victory, when it has the Lamed ( ל ) prefixed.
See Isa. 25:8 (R.V.). Amos 1:11 (both A.V. and R.V.). Also Psa. 13:1 (2). Prov. 21:28.


Luke 1:78; 2 Cor. 6:12; 7:15; Phil. 1:8; Col. 3:12 — σπλάγχνα (splangna), bowels,
is used for mercy, like the Heb. רחֲמִי ם (rachameem), which has both meanings.

See Gen. 43:30. Psa. 51:1 (3). Prov. 12: 10. When used with the word “mercies” itself, it denotes tender mercies.


Gal. 2:21.— “I do not frustrate (or esteem at a small price) the grace of God:
for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead (i.e., died) in vain.”

Here, δωρεάν dorean), a free gift, is put for μάτην (mateen), in vain; and the A.V.
so translates it. The R.V. renders it “for nought.” But, like the Heb. חִנָּם (chinnam),
μάτην means in vain, while δωρεάν means without a cause. See Psa. 109:3.


1 Thess. 4:4, and 1 Pet. 3:7, where σκεῦος (skeuos), a vase or utensil, is used for the Heb. כְּלִי (k’lee), which has a wider meaning, instrument or weapon.
See Hos. 13:15, and 1 Sam. 21:3-6.


Heb. 11:31; Jas. 2:25 —“The harlot Rahab”: where πόρνη (pornee), a harlot, receives its true meaning from the Heb. זוֹנָה (zonah) which means a female hostess, or landlady, as well as harlot.


1 Pet. 3:14 — δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosunee), righteousness, is used of ordinary piety, kindness, etc.
So 2 Cor. 9:9. Matt. 6:1 according to one reading (see Metonymy and Synecdoche).


Rev. 2:7; 22:2,14 —“The tree of life.” In the Greek ξύλον (xylon) means wood;
but receives its meaning of “tree” from the Heb. עֵץ (eytz), tree, which is frequently rendered ξύλον (xylon) in the LXX.


Rev. 14:8; 18:3 — “She hath made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”  Here, θυμός (thumos), wrath, means heat, as well as anger; like the Heb. חֵמָה (cheymah), heat, venom, or poison. See Job 6:4, where the LXX. renders it θυμός (thumos), evil or affliction, as Matt. 6:34. So that the meaning is “the heating or poisonous wine of her fornication.”

From “Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible” by E. W. Bullinger,
(Public Domain) pages 676-680. Adapted for website compatibility.
See original at link.      Stream          Download. © 2013-2022. All rights reserved. Material in public domain may be freely copied and distributed without charge for educational, non-commercial purposes. This website, and those referenced by this site as sources of public domain material, are to be referenced. Material that is not in public domain, and indicated as such, is the property of its rightful owner(s), and/or originator.