Call a Pegasus a "Hippogriff"
The daughter trope of Our Monsters Are Different
and Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp"
So your characters are on an adventure in a Magical Land
, and they naturally run into a mythical creature. Said creature is then identified in the text or dialogue by the name of a similar (or not) mythical being or fantasy creature. Cue a moment of confusion for the viewer.
This could be employed just to underline in red crayon that Your Monsters Are Different
. Alternatively, of course, the writer did no research — or
did a little too much research
, finding an extremely obscure name or form of a familiar creature. This is a common cheat when fishing for names for Palette Swap Underground Monkeys
This isn't quite Sadly Mythtaken
as the very fact that the writer knows
that mythical creatures have specific names implies doing some research. (Sadly Mythtaken is more for The Theme Park Version
/ Disneyfication of classic myths.)
In case you're wondering, the most commonly accepted generic term for Winged Horses
" (which is Greek for, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin
). However they're often simply called "pegasi/pegasus" after the most famous example — see A Kind of One
Compare Istanbul Not Constantinople
, which is similar but for place names.
When a completely fantastical character is named after a commonly-known creature, see Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit"
, which is a sister trope. The title is a takeoff on Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp"
, and is a reference to one of the best-known examples.
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Anime & Manga
- In Mahou Sensei Negima! there's an in-story example when the group encounters a monstrous dog creature with multiple heads. Nodoka, being the high-fantasy book fan, identifies it as Orthrus by its snake-head tails. But at the same time, it has three heads total like Cerberus (whereas Orthrus had two), so she can't really identify it as anything. This probably serves as a Chekhov's Gun because the person who conjured it (it was actually an illusion) was just a child with likely not much knowledge on mystical consistency. Note that in some myths, Cerberus is depicted with a snake tail or with snakes on his back.
- They later encounter a dragon. Nodoka and Yue briefly get caught up in a discussion of whether it's technically a wyrm before realizing that a gigantic fire-breathing lizard is charging them and decide it doesn't really matter that much.
- Later on, Yue and her classmates fight against a creature called a "Griffin Dragon". The only thing about it that was Dragon-like was a scaly tail and a pair of horns. Oh, and the Breath Weapon.
- Gryphon from Bakugan is actually portrayed as a winged, three-headed monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail instead of a monster with a bird's head and wings and a lion's body. This more closely resembled a chimera.
- Dream of The Sandman has three guardian beasts, one of which is a winged horse. This character is also identified as a hippogriff. Given that this is Neil Gaiman writing, it's likely an E Nesbit tribute (see Literature below). Also, the dragon (four legs) is called a wyvern (two legs) - possibly Neil knew what he was talking about but none of the artists did.
- In Avatar the giant, reptilian, mountain dwelling creatures are called "Banshees" by the humans. Granted, hearing the call of such a creature very well could signal the end of your life (the largest of which, called the Toruk, actually even means "the last shadow", as in the last one you'll ever see), but one would think that the first thing that came to mind when the humans saw them would be a dragon.
- For that matter, the natives are called "Na'vi" and they worship "Eywa," but functionally they are elves who worship Gaia.
- The Kraken from Clash of the Titans isn't the giant squid or crab monster of Scandinavian myth, but some kind of gigantic pseudo-Greek mermonster. In the original mythology, the sea monster that was going to destroy the city of Argos (unless they sacrificed Princess Andromeda) was called Cetus. (Which, incidentally, is where we get the scientific term cetaceans, meaning whales.)
- In Drag Me to Hell, the classic "man-goat" demon that is after the (female) protagonist is oddly called a lamia, a creature with vastly different representations in the folklore of different European countries but that is always said to be female and most often a beautiful seductress. This is acknowledged in one scene where the demon's shadow briefly resembles that of a young woman before morphing into its usual figure.
- An early draft of the first American Godzilla (1998) featured a rival monster called the Gryphon; however, it is described as an amalgam of mountain lion and bat rather than the traditional lion and eagle.
- Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams: At one point Juni refers to the half gorilla, half tarantula creature that's been following him as a centaur. Its actual name seems to be a "spider monkey".
- In MirrorMask there are a lot of catlike creatures with human heads. In Classical Mythology, such creatures are known as sphinxes, but the one of them that asks a riddle is identified in the script as a Gryphon, which should be a hybrid of a lion and eagle.
- In E Nesbit's The Book of Beasts, the hero must summon a creature identified as a hippogriff to save his city from a dragon. The creature that appears is what most people would identify as a pegasus, a winged horse. To be fair, you can't say that a hippogriff isn't a winged horse (or that a pegasus isn't technically part horse, part bird for that matter). It's also possible that Nesbit figured that the word pegasus must only refer to the Pegasus.
- Actually Pliny the Elder mentioned Pegasi living in Aegypt. So the idea of numbers of Winged Horses existing is Older Than Print.
- An older example is Frank Stockton's short story, The Griffin and the Minor Canon from 1885, in which the eponymous monster — by its description — is clearly a dragon. The story might actually be considered a Lampshade Hanging on this trope, as the dragon sees a statue of a griffin and assumes that (since it also has four legs, wings, etc.) he must be of the same species and that "griffin" is what humans call him. Got all that?
It had a large head, with enormous open mouth and savage teeth; from its back arose great wings, armed with sharp hooks and prongs; it had stout legs in front, with projecting claws; but there were no legs behind,—the body running out into a long and powerful tail, finished off at the end with a barbed point. This tail was coiled up under him, the end sticking up just back of his wings. note
- Sir Arthur Charles Fox-Davies warns against confusing the two in his A Complete Guide to Heraldry, so it was apparently a common Victorian mistake.
- One of the stranger examples is in the book Thorn Ogres of Hagwood. A character wanders into the action about halfway through the story. He is a short humanoid with a big, big beard and he carries a lot of different tools and has a great talent for metalwork. He is identified as a dwa... no, wait, he is a Pooka. Pookas technically can appear as dwarves but, as you may recall from Harvey, they also tend to be a lot weirder.
- Similarly, in Xanth, despite having clearly done the research (Anthony had the Naga being snakes with human heads rather than alt-named Lamia), the creatures he calls Pooka are... ghost horses bound to the living world with chains swathed around their bodies, who can't talk and have very shy temperaments. And can somehow reproduce (then again, it's Xanth.)
- The original pooka was known for transforming into a large black horse that would give anyone foolish enough to mount it a terrifying ride, which is probably the origin for that bit of lore.
- Boggarts in Harry Potter, which are not shapeshifters in English lore.
- J. R. R. Tolkien was fond of using "worm," the Middle and Modern English cognate of Old English "wyrm", to mean "dragon" or "serpent". "Worm" in the sense of "dragon" is attested as late as the mid-19th century in Northern English, as in the ballads of the Lambton Worm and the Laidly Worm, so the Good Professor wasn't just making it up as he went along.
- It is even older - in the old North Germanic languages, "orm" could mean a snake, a worm or a dragon by modern English terms.
- Although she never appears in the stories in person, it's made pretty clear that H.P. Lovecraft's Mother Hydra has nothing to do with the Hydra of the Greek myth.
- In David Weber's Safehold books, the humans who have settled on the planet Safehold have named many local animals after mythical beasts. Examples include the kraken (described as a cross between a squid and a shark, fitting the latter's place in Safeholdian ecology), the dragon (a massive, six-legged animal that comes in both carnivorous and herbivorous varieties), and the wyvern (four-winged flyers that are the Safeholdian analogue of birds).
- Arcana has "Unicorns," which resemble the usual image of unicorns only in that they have a single horn and are roughly horse-sized and shaped. They are black, with disproportionately long legs, powerful hindquarters, and ears like a bobcat — and possess a mouthful of long tusks and sharp, carnivorous teeth.
- There are carnivorous "Alicorns" (also called "One-Horns", but guess what unicorn means) in the Elvenbane series as well. Traditionally, this word refers to either winged unicorns or the horn of a unicorn, although it's likely a result of centuries of Recursive Translation from English <-> French (unicorn -> une icorne -> l'icorne -> a licorn -> alicorn).
- Some of the main characters are shapeshifting superintelligent dragons who are, in some details, quite different.
- In The Carpet People, there's an enigmatic, prescient race which most people would call "elves" based on the description. Instead they're "wights", which more commonly refers to minions of The Undead.
- H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy shows humans taking a third option when naming an alien animal. It's big and has a horn on its nose. Rhino? No, it has three horns. Triceratops? No. They call it a "damnthing."
- In Richard Ellis Preston Jr.'s Chronicles Of The Pneumatic Zeppelin, the aliens are called Martians. They're not from Mars. Whatever they are, it's much farther away. Nevertheless the name stuck even though characters are well aware that it's this trope.
Live Action TV
- Somewhat related: The creatures that attack Arthur and Merlin in the Merlin miniseries are Raptors with squirrel-like patagia no matter how much Merlin insists on calling them griffons.
- No one has ever been able to work out why someone decided to call flying undead monsters dryads.
- Rather than wild, intoxicated and lustful female followers of the Greek god Dionysus, maenads in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Expanded Universe are depicted as equally mad followers of an ancient vampire named Kakistos (whom Faith slayed later) who were prime cases of Being Tortured Makes You Evil (or just plain crazy) and passed their tortures onto other unfortunate girls until their minds broke and served Kakistos as well.
- Xena: Warrior Princess did the same, except it used the name "Bacchae", which actually referred to Bacchus' human female followers (at least, the maenads were nymphs).
- In the second season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, two Thunderzords were renamed from their Gosei Sentai Dairanger counterparts to other, similar creatures:
- The Yellow Ranger's Qilin/Kirin mecha became a Griffin; probably to downplay the Chinese-ness of the original and because the audience wasn't expected to know what a Qilin or Kirin was.
- The Blue Ranger's mecha was shifted from a Pegasus (by its Chinese name "Tenma" in Dairanger) to a Unicorn. This could have been done to smooth over the change from the prior season's blue mecha, a Triceratops, by making a 'horned beasts' connection. The fact that the mecha has no wings but does have a small horn might have also played a part.
- In Seijuu Sentai Gingaman and Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, the Green Ranger's parter/mecha was dragonlike with some birdlike characteristics. Both shows referred to it as a kind of bird and denied it was a dragon at all ("Gingalcon" - that's "Galaxy Falcon" - in Gingaman and "Condor Galactabeast" in Lost Galaxy).
- Power Rangers Dino Thunder took a pterosaur mecha and referred to it as the Drago Zord.
- An odd variation on Angel—in Pylea, the dominant demon races refer to humans as "cows."
- At least one article in Dragon magazine has suggested that game masters use this trope in-game to screw with their players' expectations, perhaps justifying it as disinformation spread by Genre Savvy monsters.
- Get a drink for this one. In Dungeons & Dragons, gorgons are a variation on the creature known as the catoblepas in more classical bestiaries. The creatures that resemble the Gorgons of Greek mythology are named medusas, after the best-known Gorgon. And as if that weren't confusing enough...the catoblepas, by that name, has actually appeared in some editions of D&D. (And while—unlike the previous two—it's always fit one version or another of the catoblepas myth, it's always been notably distinct from the gorgon.)
- Ditto for Heroes of Might and Magic III.
- Incidentally, the word "Gorgon" literally means "horror".
- The use of the name "gorgon" for a bull-like creature comes from a particular medieval bestiary, which used that name for the catoblepas as a reference to the whole "kill with a glance" thing.
- "Gorgon" as a name for a bull-like creature used to be a case in Real Life, when the Blue Wildebeest had the scientific name Gorgon taurinus (currently it is classified as Connochaetes taurinus).
- Lamia in Dungeons & Dragons have a confusing history due to Lamia's own historically confusing mythology as either a snake woman, a hermaphroditic hag, or as a four-legged beast with a woman's head & breasts. All editions of D&D up through 3rd have used the last one as inspiration for a lion-centaur monster which somewhat follows it. However, 4th edition just decides to chuck all mythology out the window and attach the name to a swarm of insects that crawl over the skeleton of a dead humanoid and use spells to disguise themselves as people.
- Magic: The Gathering's Innistrad block features "Griffins" that look an awful lot like hippogriffs... which is particularly confusing since "Hippogriff" is a separate creature type in the preceeding Scars of Mirrodin block. Mercadian Masques also features some decidedly odd trollsnote and satyrs. And then there're the Ravnican Nephilim which... don't resemble anything, much less Biblical giants.
- The Nephilim in the Bible are never described specifically as humanoid giants. They are the result of the "sons of God" breeding with human women. Since the only angels described in the Bible more closely resemble Eldritch Abominations than the modern conception of a winged, pretty human, the makers of Magic were really rather justified in doing whatever the hell they wanted.
- And then there's the Magic original "Phelddagrif" (an anagram of "Garfield, Ph.D." in honor of the game's creator), which is a green-winged purple hippopotamus!
- Zoids doesn't even seem to care, considering robot triceratops with sharp pointy teeth are Rule of Cool, but to writ: the Liger series of zoids are referred to as 'lion type' and several four-legged-and-winged dragons are 'wyvern type.' For that matter, whether godzillaesque or more like a giant monitor lizard, any big reptile zoid made before 2000 will be called 'tyrannosaurus type.'
- World of Warcraft has large predatory cats with bat wings and scorpion stingers. They are called manti... no, they are called wyverns. Whether this is a mistake or an attempt to establish a distinct bestiary is unknown, however, these days "wyverns" are now almost exclusively referred to in the game as simply "wind riders."
- World of Warcraft also has what most people would call "wyverns" - bipedal, non-intelligent dragons. They are called proto-drakes and as the "proto" implies, they are the precursor to regular dragons, which were bred from proto-drakes by the Titans via genetic engineering and magic.
- Hippogryphs in the Warcraft universe look like raven-stags instead of eagle-horses and are often green, making them more resemble the mythological peryton.
- Also, dryads are deer-night elf centauroid hybrids, not tree spirits (these are known as wisps).
- Kraken and Leviathan have their names switched around: "Kraken" is a massive reptilian-fish-whale while "Leviathan" is a giant octopus.
- In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, the Cockatrice and the Basilisk are pretty much palette swaps, although they are completely separate critters. Most of the time.
- The Gorgon/catoblepas issue (see Tabletop Games, above) is also present in Aria. Likewise, one of the most iconic God Damn Bats of the entire series is the Medusa Head, which is very different from the other gorgons in the game.
- Tentacled face, clawed hands/feet, reptile like body, narrow wings from the back? Yup, sounds like Cthulh- oh wait it's Malachi. Then what's Cthulhu? Oh it's a devil.
- Lilith? The ancient female demon, first wife of Adam? Nope, it's just a lesser succubus.
- The Kraken in City of Heroes is a giant blob monster that walks on two legs and resides in the Scrappy zone of Perez Park and is a member of the villain group, the Hydra, which are all human-sized blobs. Except the Hydra, which is another humongous blob with tentacles that stretch all over the city. None of which ought to be confused with Lusca, the giant octopus which terrorizes Independence Port.
- In a inversion of Dinosaurs Are Dragons, Monster Hunter refers to it's dinosaur-like monsters as Wyverns just like the actual ones. The sub-type "Bird Wyvern" is basically a Velociraptor ranging in size from a leopard to a cargo container, while "Brute Wyverns" are small Tyrannosaurs. True Bird Wyverns are actual birds.
- Fallout has Centaurs, mutated creatures which look like... Well, see for yourself.
- Quite common throughout the Final Fantasy series. Many gods and creatures have been portrayed as European-style dragons at some point. Bahamut, a gigantic fish that carries the world in Arabian myth is almost always a winged dragon in the games. Catoblepas has varied game to game from a Basilisk recolor to a Behemoth recolor, and Cockatrices have been represented as birds, lizards, and serpents. The general need of the series to name all of its palette swapped monsters has occasionally led to creatures of legendary power lending their names to unimpressive enemies.
- Pokémon has several Dragon-type Pokemon that look absolutely un-dragonlike, as well as Pokemon that look like dragons but aren't Dragon types.
- Altaria resembles a giant bird. It's meant to be a Peng (huge dragon-like bird) from Chinese mythology.
- Flygon looks very insectlike despite being part Ground-type, being that it's an adult antlion, which look like dragonflies and have the nickname "sand dragon", so Flygon's Dragon typing is a pun. Vibrava, which evolves into Flygon and shares its Dragon typing, is even more insectoid.
- Charizard, despite its draconic appearance, isn't a Dragon-type at all, but a Fire/Flying-type, though it is in the Dragon egg group. This is only made weirder in some languages where its name is based on the word "Dragon", such as "Dracofeu" in French. In Generation VI, Charizard finally gets its Dragon-type...with one of its Mega Evolutions.
- Gyarados, despite being the poster boy for Dragon Rage, isn't a Dragon-type either. This one has a bit of Fridge Brilliance to it, as the legend that Gyarados is based has a carp climb a waterfall and be rewarded by the gods for its hard work be by being transformed into a dragon, but then later having the title of dragon stripped from it after it let its accomplishment go to its head and lead it on a destructive rampage.
- Kingdra is based on a creature called a weedy sea dragon. Goomy is a dragon-type slug, probably based on the Blue Dragon sea slugs. Dialga isn't much like a dragon, though Palkia has more similarity to the European dragon, and Giratina's Origin Forme bears its resemblance to the Chinese dragon. Really, considering that most of the types don't refer to specific lifeforms (dragon being joined by bug and ghost in doing so), it's not surprising.
- The Legend of Zelda seems to do this in-universe, with several very disparate creatures sharing the same name (in the original Japanese, at least). Apparently any small masked critter is a 'hiploop' and any large masked one is a 'zeeclock' whether insectoid, reptilian, or avian.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has Octoroks that more resemble Deku Scrubs.
- According to one interpretation (which happens to be shared by series creator Shigeru Miyamoto) each Zelda title is a differently corrupted version of the same core story rather than an entirely new chapter in Hyrule's history, a notion which the unusual in-universe use of this trope would appear to support.
- In Cornish folklore, a spriggan is a kind of goblin that can grow to giant size. In The Elder Scrolls, it's basically a dryad.
- A few liberties were taken in the depiction of Greek myth's monsters in God of War, mainly for the sake of Rule of Cool.
- Monsters from the Shin Megami Tensei series are pretty much supposed to be exactly as humans know them. This is because they are mythological archetypes born out of humanity's collective consciousness, and as such the descriptions of their nature are more or less accurate, although the context in which you fight or recruit them is often not, because of the different mythologies forced to coexist. Also, the visual style of the series results in some monsters being noticeably different from the original mold. Most egregious are most versions of Cerberus, which looks like a snake-tailed albino lion father than a 3-headed canine (although the 3-headed cerberus was used in Persona 3 as Team Pet Koromaru's persona). This stems from the novels the series was based on, which portrayed Cerberos as having only one head.
- The Kraken from Earthbound, while being a giant sea creature that attacks ships, only resembles a kraken as far as that. It looks less like a giant multi-tentacled cephalopod and more like a giant green eel with a head that looks like a green pacman with a bloody mouth and fangs and fire coming out of it, and a dimpled smile.
- Fire Emblem has the problem with giving Wyverns four legs, though it often switches between the two. One time, even in the same game, as in Sacred Stones, promoting a Wyvern Rider into a Wyvern Knight seems to result in the Wyvern losing its front limbs and thus resembling a true Wyvern. The remakes of the first and third games changes it so domesticated Wyverns have four legs and wild wyverns have two.
- Brooke from Eerie Cuties and her people are called "melusines," even though traditionally, "Melusine" was a specific individual - what she was was a "nixie." It would be like calling gorgons "medusas." Oh Wait, that totally happens.
- Homestuck has liches that could be much more comparable to gargoyles (though the wings are not part of the monster design; they come from the prototyped crow).
- The Leviathan from Atlantis: The Lost Empire is actually still referred to in-film as "a mythical sea serpent", but it is actually a giant mechanical lobster, as pointed out by the quotes "Jiminy Christmas, it's a machine!" and "I want that lobster served on a silver platter!"
- The term Alicorn to describe the Winged Unicorn from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic which later became Ascended Fanon. The Term Alicorn usually refers to the theoretical substance of a Unicorn's horn, barring the fact there were already fan terms in play from previous generations ("Unipeg" and "Pegicorn" come to mind).
- Sirens are often portrayed as being mermaid-like in appearance, even though they were originally closer to harpies in the myths.
- Not to mention languages that conflate the two names.
- The chimera is often portrayed as being similar in body structure to Cerberus, with the goat head, lion head (which is often depicted as a male lion's head in modern media as opposed to the original female lion's head where the beast was generally considered in Greek mythology to be a female), and a dragon head all together in the front. In original Greek mythology the chimera had the body and front head of a lioness, a snake for a tail (which is still present in modern depictions), and a goat's head on its BACK at the center of the spine
- To confuse matters even more, the term "chimera" is often used as a generic term to refer to any Mix-and-Match Critters.
- Not so unsurprisingly, as genetic chimerism is when an individual body is composed of cells of different genetic origin. Non-identical mammalian twin embryos may for instance fuse during early gestation, and the resulting individual is in fact their own twin, and may be half male, half female.
- The Lobisome(m) of Galician-Portuguese folklore, despite meaning literally "wolfman", actually turns into a black dog-pig hybrid thing, and has little in common with most portrayals of the werewolf besides the fact that it is a human shapeshifter.
- Half the things in Eastern European folklore called werewolves (some variation on "vilkodlak") are actually vampires, with little or no wolfish identity remaining.
- See also any creature from folklore in the Americas which goes by a variant of the French word "loup-garou". E.g., the Haitian one? It's either a vampire or a witch, and it turns into a will-o-wisp, not a wolf. The Cajun one can turn into a wolf, but it's usually just an invisible person—and they apply "garou"note to any other animal shape-shifter (their folklore has people that can become cats and horses, for just two examples).
- There is a tendency to take the most well-known variant of a mythical and/or folkloric creature and apply its name across the board, even to cultures which, by virtue of distance or time, could never have heard of it. Examples include calling any large reptilian mythical creature a "dragon" or any blood-sucking monster a "vampire".
- Westerners have long used Western mythical names for a number of Chinese mythical creatures, even if they bear only the slightest resemblance to their supposed counterparts. Examples include calling the Fenghuang, or August Rooster, a "phoenix", even though it has no association with fire or rebirth, or the Qilin (a mythical creature with the head of a dragon and a body of tiger with scales) a "unicorn". Some have even suggested that the same sloppiness applies to Chinese dragons as well. Thanks to a Chinese Emperor, the word "Qilin," or its Japanese equivalent "Kirin", is used today as the name of the very real giraffe.
- There is a creature in Romanian folklore called a zmeu. It's basically an ogre, but its name is probably derived from the Slavic word for dragon.