When a writer uses a comparison that is not natural, or has seemingly misused a word based on the context, it is called catachresis. While the author may have appeared to use a word inappropriately, when done effectively catachresis is used to create novel comparisons and descriptions.
While skilled writers use catachresis for effect, it often appears in everyday speech when people substitute incorrect words or mix metaphors because they do not fully understand the words they are using (see the first two examples below)
I ate so much I am stumped! (stumped substituted for stuffed)
It was the straw that broke the elephant's back. (substituted elephant for camel)
Her look was as heavy as a feather.
The little boy looked up at me with old eyes.
Examples of Catachresis from Literature
"I will speak daggers to her." Hamlet, Shakespeare
"His complexion is perfect gallows." The Tempest, Shakespeare
"The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses -
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands." E.E. Cummings
Mow the beard,
Shave the grass,
Pin the plank,
Nail my sleeve. Alexander Pope
Literary Terms Examples