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Borrowed from French solécisme, from Latin soloecismus, from Ancient Greek σολοικισμός (soloikismós), from σόλοικος (sóloikos, speaking incorrectly), from Σόλοι (Sóloi), an ancient Athenian colony in Cilicia whose inhabitants spoke a dialect regarded by Athenians as a corrupted and barbarous form of Attic Greek. Compare Atticism.



solecism (plural solecisms)

  1. An erroneous or improper usage.
    • 1783 July 8, George Washington, Letter to Rev. William Gordon,
      [] to suppose that the general concern of this Country can be directed by thirteen heads, or one head without competent powers, is a solecism, the bad effects of which every Man who has had the practical knowledge to judge from, that I have, is fully convinced of; tho' none perhaps has felt them in so forcible, and distressing a degree.
    • 1869, Noah Haynes Swayne; Supreme Court of the United States, Smythe v. Fiske: Opinion of the Court:
      Why leave the non-enumerated articles, covered by the act of 1864, subject only to this lower rate of duty? Why this distinction? Such a result would, we think, be a solecism, and contrary to the spirit and purpose of the act. It cannot reasonably be supposed that such was the intent of the clause in question.
    • 1908, Henry James, chapter IV, in The Portrait of a Lady (The Novels and Tales of Henry James), New York edition, volume (please specify |volume=I or II), Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, →OCLC; republished as The Portrait of a Lady (EBook #283), United States: Project Gutenberg, 1 September 2001:
      For this reason she was fond of seeing great crowds and large stretches of country, of reading about revolutions and wars, of looking at historical pictures—a class of efforts as to which she had often committed the conscious solecism of forgiving them much bad painting for the sake of the subject.
  2. (grammar) Error in the use of language.
    • 1911, Metaphor, article in Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition,
      The "simple" metaphor, such as the instance given, becomes the "continued" metaphor when the analogy or similitude is worked out in a series of phrases and expressions based on the primary metaphor; it is in such "continued metaphors" that the solecism of "mixed" metaphors is likely to occur.
    • 1933, Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas:
      Eliot and Gertrude Stein had a solemn conversation, mostly about split infinitives and other grammatical solecisms and why Gertrude Stein used them.
    • 2008, Ben Yagoda, chapter VII, in When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, Crown, →ISBN:
      Prepositions are also prone to particular solecisms and infelicities.
    • 2021 July 15, “Sometimes solecisms can reveal linguistic ingenuity”, in The Economist[1], →ISSN:
      On June 12th The Economist’s pages featured an activist investor “honing in on the dearth of energy experience” on a company’s board. A few readers honed in on a solecism: the original phrase is to “home in” on something, like the creatures that find their way back to their nests—that is, they “home”—with surprising precision.
  3. (by extension) A faux pas or breach of etiquette; a transgression against the norms of expected behavior.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:error
    • 1778, Fanny Burney, Evelina: Or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, Letter LXVIII: EVELINA TO THE REV. MR. VILLARS. Clifton, Sept. 28th.,
      "Best young woman!" repeated Mr. Lovel; "'pon honour, Jack, you have made a most unfortunate speech; however, if Lady Louisa can pardon you,-and her Ladyship is all goodness,-I am sure nobody else can; for you have committed an outrageous solecism in good manners."
    • 1870, James Anthony Froude, chapter IV, in History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, volume I:
      Under this plea, felons of the worst kind might claim, till this time, to be taken out of the hands of the law judges, and to be tried at the bishops’ tribunals; and at these tribunals, such a monstrous solecism had Catholicism become, the payment of money was ever welcomed as the ready expiation of crime.
    • 1913, Ecclesiastical Architecture, article in Catholic Encyclopedia,
      To build a church for the admiration of "the man in the street", who sees it from outside, or of the tourist who pays it a passing visit, or of the artist, or of anyone else whatsoever except that of the faithful who use the church for prayer, the hearing of Mass, and the reception of the sacraments, is to commit a solecism in the liturgy of all the material arts.
    • 1921 [1919], H. L. Mencken, The American Language, 2nd edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, →ISBN, →OCLC, footnote, page 138:
      In the South every negro preacher is ex officio a D.D., and is commonly addressed as Doctor. This enables white Southerners to show a decent respect for his sacred office, and yet avoid the solecism of calling him Mister.

Related terms[edit]





From French solécisme.


solecism n (plural solecisme)

  1. solecism