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Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit"

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"Ah, yes. The blue furred, horned tiger. Bred for its skills in magic."

"I once ate a live frog, you know. Well, it was mostly like a frog. Had an extra leg or two and was violet in color but was basically the same thing. Slimy. Amphibious. Et cetera."
Hoid, Elantris

It doesn't look like a duck, walk like a duck or quack like a duck, yet everyone around you insists it's a duck.

Just as Speculative Fiction authors like to Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp", they also like to invent wild new creatures, give them the names of familiar animals, and plunk them down into their settings to run amok. The differences between the smeerps and their real-world counterparts can range from trivial — such as "dogs" that have spiked backs and three tails in addition to all their normally canine traits — to extreme, such as bipedal, poison-spitting, frilled reptiles with saddles being referred to as "horses".

When used in non-visual media, the problem is that unless the author is very explicit right up front about the fact that the animal in question is quite different from what the word normally means, the reader may be hundreds of pages in before he runs across something that just doesn't make sense, which can be jarring. It shatters the Suspension of Disbelief when you have to suddenly change your mental image of the hero's faithful dog to include scales and a forked tongue.


A common trope in RPGs, especially when naming monsters.

This trope is very much Truth in Television, as can be quickly seen by browsing through the Real Life section of this page. Explorers would name newly discovered animals after the ones they were familiar with due to a resemblance in how it looks, sounds, or acts. This is why, for example, you'd need to distinguish between African, American, and Eurasian buffalo—Portuguese explorers in the 1580s called African buffalo "big oxen" in their language; French traders in the 1630s independently applied their own cognate term to the large bovines of North America; and then in the early 18th century Europeans applied the term to the water buffalo of Asia (unlike the previous two times, that was probably a deliberate comparison to another "buffalo", namely the African one, rather than simply "big ox").


And for whatever reason, everyone thought that every animal would have an "alien" equivalent. The closest equivalent to outer space back then was the ocean. Have you noticed how many sea creatures have names like "Sea/Mer + Name of Land Animal", e.g. Sea Lion, Cow, Horse, Slug, and Cucumber? Basically, people of old assumed that most creatures on land have an aquatic Fantastic Fauna Counterpart. Note that quite a few cases are due to translation errors (see Dinosaurs Are Dragons for a specific example of this).

Note that in Real Life, this trope can involve the linguistic debate on prescriptivism vs. descriptivism—if an animal is commonly called something, that is by definition its common name; it's only "wrong" if it doesn't convey what animal is being referred to. Common parlance is not professional taxonomic literature, which has binomial nomenclature to prevent ambiguities.

The inverse of Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp". When already fictional creatures bear little resemblance to their mythological counterparts, it is, depending on the case in question, either Our Monsters Are Different or Call a Pegasus a "Hippogriff". Occasionally might be related to Translation Convention. Can be justified if the fantasy creature is the Fantastic Fauna Counterpart of the real-life animal it's named after. See also Informed Species, which is when the animal is meant to be a real type, but doesn't look anything like it. Not to be confused with In Name Only. Closely related to Non-Indicative Name.


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  • Comes up in a GEICO commercial featuring the stars of previous commercials, one of whom is the woman who called her son while he was Kinda Busy Here.
    Mother: (on the phone) Well the squirrels followed me here from California, and there's a very strange badger staring at me. (she's talking about a sloth)

    Anime & Manga 
  • Biomega features bizarre technorganic insectoids referred to as horses. Then again, the people who ride them seem to have a very loose definition of the word, as this is also what they call the main character's motorcycle.
  • Animals in (on) Nagasarete Airantou may as well be animals in name only. Lampshaded heavily by Ikuto in the beginning, but he's since taken it in stride (especially those cotton balls they call "sheep"). Whenever a "real" animal appears it is given such "real" detail that even animals of the same species on Airantou find it horrifying.
  • The "horseclaws" from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are large flightless birds used for transportation After the End. In the manga, one of the older characters mentions hearing of a time when the word "horse" described a mammal. Nausicaä looks shocked. It's even more blatant in the original Japanese, where they're simply called "horses".
  • Pom Poko: The movie all about tanuki insists we are watching a film about the common raccoons westerners are familiar with throughout the entire dub, while still preserving the gratuitous scrotum jokes and imagery. Though, they refer to the scrotums as pouches if that counts.
  • The Red Elk from Princess Mononoke does not resemble an actual elk or wapiti. It might actually pass for one, if it had antlers as opposed to bony horns which more quickly call a goat into mind.
  • Rave Master:
    • Plue is the source of endless confusion for the protagonist. He's white, has a horn-like nose, eats lollipops, and alters between walking on two legs and four, and has on one occasion been indecisive over his own gender. So far people have accused him of being a dog, an insect, a cat (though the person who guessed this went on to guess a specific breed that was a dog anyway), a water demon, a snowman, or an alien. (Word of God cheerfully insists he's a dog, though.)
    • Additionally, the group occasionally travel around in a cart pulled by a "horse"... which is purple, bipedal and reptilian in appearance, and constantly shakes its head back and forth rapidly. That horse also has a trunk and makes a weird engine-like sound. Admittedly, Griff is the only one to insist that the thing pulling his cart is a horse. It is lampshaded several times by the other characters.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Plue gets this treatment again when Lucy summons him. At least Natsu and Happy doubt her when she insists that she has summoned a dog spirit. They seem to give up on arguing with her almost immediately, though.
    • On that note Happy himself, while indeed having cat-like head, is of a solid blue colour, walks on hind legs, speaks, can sprout wings and carry people around, has hatched from an egg... But everybody calls him a cat. In Edolas Arc we learn that the proper name for his species is Exceed, but everybody keeps calling them cats.
  • Rental Magica had it Played for Laughs right in the first episode (TV order), on account of one beast.
    Itsuki: [panicking] You said it was a dog!
    Nekoyashiki: [very calmly] A mammal on four legs with sharp teeth that barks. If I don't call it a dog, what else should I call it?
  • Though the aliens of Sgt. Frog do look somewhat amphibious, they are far closer to the standard Little Green Men than frogs. Could be a result of stylized art (look at the humans in the series) rather than them not looking like frogs.
  • Despite being an educational program about prehistoric life, and otherwise very accurate in its depictions, Pikaia! has its eponymous main creature looking like some sort of cartoonish sea angel rather than an actual Pikaia. It could also be based on Amiskwia, which is at least from the same time period. That would still be a rather embarrassing mixup though.
  • The plot of the Dog Days manga features Cinque wanting to harvest some honey for his tea. It's only after the expedition sets off that he finds out that honey in Flonyard doesn't come from bees... it comes from bears.

    Comic Books 
  • In Bone there are the so-called "rat creatures", large hairy beasts that repeatedly menace the protagonists. However, they look absolutely nothing like rats, having long pointed horns in place of ears and huge, blank, insect-like eyes. Except the "horns" are actually cropped ears and their "beautiful long tails" are cut off in puphood for cultural reasons. Bartleby was able to deal with losing the tail bit fled over what amounts to Circumcision Angst when it was time to crop his ears.

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed in A Boy, a Girl and a Dog: The Leithian Script: Aegnor has an argument with his family because he insists the Middle-Earth plant called "athelas" is not the same as the Valinorean plant "maralasse", whereas his relatives argues they look almost identical and their differences could be attributed to different evolutionary paths.
    Finarfin: By thy gracious terming, dost thou signify the herb that giveth ease unto heart even as body, the which we in our tongue name maralasse?
    Steward: In your speech it would be rendered athelas.
    Aegnor: [abruptly] No, it doesn't grow there, Father — what she's talking about looks something like it, but it isn't the same thing at all although it smells similar and has the same effects.
    Nerdanel: Nay, nephew, wherefore claimest thou difference, and it be in all respects more greatly of sameness?
    Aegnor: It grows much lower to the ground, the leaves are shaped differently and aren't the same colour, and it has a different number of sepals and the climate's too cold for it there part of the year.
    Ambassador: I seem to recall, Prince Aegnor, that you said much the same thing concerning all the creatures of Beleriand, whereupon it was demonstrated that your names and ours were in fact the same, taking into account the variances introduced by the passing of years and leagues.
    Aegnor: [shortly] That's because our ancestors gave them the same names when they got to Valinor, not because they were actually exactly the same—

    Films — Animation 
  • Monsters, Inc.:
    • Mikey has an old stuffed animal — it's a cyclopean horned monster (like him) but with six legs. What does he call it? A "teddy bear". They likely have picked up their knowledge of "teddy bears" from the children they scared; small children tend to call any plush a "teddy bear", regardless of whether said plush looks anything like a bear. Even adults do it sometimes — just check eBay.
    • Also Boo calls the Hulking monster Sully "Kitty!"
  • The "lava whales" from Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire are actually large dog- or seal-like animals that swim in lava but look nothing like actual whales. Also, Atlantean wildlife in general.
  • Contrary to popular belief, actual Aracuan birds look absolutely nothing like the one seen in The Three Caballeros.
  • Most of the prehistoric animals from the Ice Age series films are all referred by the names of modern-day animals. For example, Diego the Saber-toothed Cat is still referred as a tiger. On the other hand, Sabre-toothed Tiger is a common name for his species, and their scientific name (Smilodon) doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Similarly, the brontotheres are referred to as "rhinos", despite being only distantly related to modern rhinoceroses.
  • In Despicable Me, Gru introduces the girls to his pet, Kyle; a small, toothy, yet menacing little beast. He uses this trope because he doesn't seem to know what Kyle is.
    Gru: He's my... [searches for a word]

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the MCU Asgard, there are a number of small creatures called "rabbits", despite being identical in appearance to earth raccoons. This causes some confusion when Thor meets Rocket.
  • In Willow, Queen Bavmorda's vaguely canine hunting beasts look more like giant furry/scaly warthogs but are consistently referred to as "dogs". Probably because "hunting pigs" sounded silly and they were using dressed-up Rottweilers anyway.
  • The non-flying steeds ridden by Na'Vi in Avatar are six-limbed blue nectar-eaters that breathe through opercula on their chests. While technically dubbed "direhorses" by humans, they get called "horses" for short a lot. Admittedly, they do look far more like a horse than anything else, such as the membranous "mane" and non-cloven hooves.
  • Ghostbusters: "OK... so... She's a dog." Meanwhile, the creature Dana transforms into hardly resembles a canine, outside of being quadrupedal.
  • In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there's an animal that's called a "rabbit", and it looks just like a rabbit — but there the similarity ends...
  • Despite taking place in a fictional, separate galaxy, the Star Wars films feature objects that are actually named after real-world animals, such as the Millenium Falcon.
    • The novelization has some fun with this. After agreeing to teach Luke in the Jedi ways, Obi-Wan quotes the saying, "Even a duck must learn to swim." Luke immediately asks what a "duck" is. (Considering that Luke grew up on a desert planet, it makes sense that he wouldn't have encountered ducks.)
    • Take a look at Wookieepedia's entry for "Dog". It provides several images of creatures that are not only obviously not dogs as we know them, but they don't even resemble each other. Apparently in the Star Wars galaxy, "dog" means "any quadrupedal domestic animal too small to ride".
  • The "Velociraptors" in Jurassic Park were larger and had heads of a different shape when compared to actual velociraptors. That is because they were actually based on a related predator, the Deinonychus. This happened because when the novel was written, a scientist had proposed that Deinonychus was a species of Velociraptor (disregarding the fact that it was twice its size and lived 20 million years earlier in a different continent)—and the film went with that even though the scientific community wrote it off before filming took place. And, even taking Deinonychus into account, it'd look more like Velociraptor than the movie animals; in 20 years, the roughly inaccurate view was turned into what looks a fully different animal.
    • The Dilophosaurus in said movie is also quite distinct from the animal we know; a child-sized cross of frilled lizard and spitting cobra doesn't resemble the bear-sized animal that once roamed Arizona.
    • The only excuse they have is these are not "real" dinosaurs. The creatures in the park(s) are spliced animals as they have dinosaur DNA with other parts put in to fill the blanks, such as a species of frog that changes sex when there isn't enough breading partners. The Indominus Rex can't even be called a "dinosaur" because it's a freakish mix of several dinosaurs and modern animals to create the most fearsome (and deadliest) creature in the park.
  • Other than being simply labeled "Bugs" as a Fantastic Slur towards the chitinous alien invaders and their various castes in Starship Troopers, their official label is "Arachnid". This is confusing as it is never shown if they have any sort of relation to Earth's arthropods despite the superficial resemblance. And even then, they look more like beetles than spiders, especially the Warriors and the Tankers.
  • Subverted with the aliens in District 9. People call them prawns, which sounds weird because they're more insectoid than crustacean, but it's actually in reference to a type of South African cricket which they actually do look a fair bit like.
  • In The Big Lebowski, the Nihilists invade the Dude's home and threaten him with a ferret, which he mistakenly calls a marmot. They also call themselves "Nihilists" without seeming to understand what Nihilism is.
  • Bringing Up Baby combines this with a bizarrely specific form of Misplaced Wildlife; Katharine Hepburn has bought what she calls a leopard, but is actually a jaguar, from Brazil, where leopards don't live but jaguars do.
  • The characters in Evolution insist on calling the flying aliens "birds" even though they clearly resemble either winged Velociraptors or dragons.
  • The Black Ranger's Zord in Power Rangers (2017) is referred to as a "Mastodon", just like in the original series. However, it scarcely looks like one: for starters, it has eight legs, and has exoskeletal-looking armor and a rounded silhouette that makes it more closely resemble some kind of giant insect. Justified that the Zords, having been built by aliens in prehistoric times, simply used said ancient animals as an inspiration to the design, but not as an exact accurate facsimilie of them.

  • A Justified Trope in The Host; the Body Snatcher invaders only understand the language of their current host, so they use the name of the closest Earth analogue for other alien species that they've conquered, despite the fact that Bizarre Alien Biology abounds.
    • The Dragons are gelatinous and float through their planet's thick, soupy atmosphere.
    • The Dolphins have three sexes, each one having either three, five, or seven legs.
    • The Bears have four arms with double-sided multi-fingered hands, and can see a wider spectrum of color than humans.
    • The See Weeds probably have the most accurate name considering that they are sentient plants with a hundred thousand eyes each.
  • The Brightest Shadow: Though a common beast of burden is called an aurochs, they're said to have claws and sharp teeth, implying a much more monstrous origin than real cattle.
  • Actually mentioned by name in Mike Resnick's short story "Stalking the Unicorn with Gun and Camera", e.g. in the following line: "A word of warning about the smerp: with its long ears and cute fuzzy body, it resembles nothing more than an oversized rabbit — but calling a smerp a rabbit doesn't make it one." This is probably a Shout-Out to James Blish's original "Call a Rabbit a Smeerp".
  • Happens a time or three in The Telnarian Histories (by the same author as the Gor series). They're along the lines of "He had a dog. Well, not a dog as you know it, but it's the closest equivalent in your ecosystem, so we'll call it a dog. It had the usual seven flippers, but only three of them were orange..." (Note: We made up the flipper part. The descriptions in the books are much more serious.)
  • Terry Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People, does this for just about everything but silverfish. Horses have color-changing multifaceted eyes, among other things.
  • Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, full stop. Wolfe's use of archaic but real terms is awe-inspiring. Of particular note are the "destriers" of Urth, which are carnivorous, fanged, and capable of charging at 90 miles an hour. The names of prehistoric animals crop up pretty often as well, but the notes in the back seem to indicate that these are not necessarily revived species (although the narrator seems to think they are) and might be whole new (but fairly similar) creatures.
  • In Gene Wolfe's Book of the Short Sun series, the "elephants" of Planet Blue apparently have two trunks.
  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders is set on a planet colonized from Earth, where the colonists gave all the local fauna familiar names. The major predators are "bisons" — which are enormous and armor-plated and have tentacles and pincers capable of cutting a person in half in one snip — and "crocodiles", which are worse. There's also a smaller creature called a "cat", which is the source of the foodstuff called "butter".
  • In the Honor Harrington series, most species are named after terrestrial animals, but except for a very few cases these refer to indigenous species of other worlds that aren't very similar to their namesakes. Lampshaded in the short story "A Beautiful Friendship".
    • We see Sphinxian chipmunks, which are noted not to look much of anything like terrestrial chipmunks. (In fact, other than the Sphinx-standard six legs, their lack of resemblance to chipmunks is the only description we actually get.)
    • Treecats are sort of like domestic cats, sort of like ocelots, arboreal (as the name implies), intelligent, telepathic, and six-legged. They're stated in text to have a feline-like head, a body like a weasel or ferret (60 centimeters long), and a prehensile tail that is carried rolled into a tube or flattened for gripping.
    • A Hexapuma is like a big cat, only bigger and more dangerous. And six-legged.
    • A Kodiak Maximus is like a Kodiak Bear, only once again bigger and more dangerous. Presumably four-legged, since it originates on Gryphon and not Sphinx.
    • Lobsters on Spindle are not at all like those on Manticore - or Old Earth. But they still are delicious, according to Mike Henke.
  • The "piggies" in Speaker for the Dead are (to grossly simplify their Bizarre Alien Biology) tree-climbing, scaly sentient beings with somewhat porcine snouts, by which, of course, the settlers of their planet chose to identify them. Of course, most of the Lusitanian lifeforms are given Portuguese "rabbit" names. For instance, the indigenous herd animals are called "cabra", Portuguese for goat, while the grass is "capim".
  • The 'horse' in Spider Circus. It's a lot like a horse, if horses were incredibly vicious, angry and ate people.
  • From the Ender's Game series are the Formics, more generally known as the Buggers due to their resemblance to giant ants.
  • Neal Stephenson's Anathem uses this, in addition to its inversion Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp". Devices that are obviously cell phones and video cameras respectively are called "jeejahs" and "speelycaptors", but vegetables and animals of the alien planet on which the novel is set are named for their closest Earth equivalent and Earth Anglo units (feet, miles) are used.
  • In the novelisation of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock a felinoid crewmember is annoyed to be described as a "cat".
    "I saw a cat once. It was digging through a garbage heap in a back alley on Amenhotep IX. I disliked it. Please explain the similarities between it and me."
    "All right... both of you were in the back alley, weren't you?"
  • One of S.L. Viehl's Stardoc books featured small, fuzzy, very alien-looking, herbivorous animals ... which were immediately identified as "kitties!" by the heroine's little daughter.
  • The title creature in Theodore Sturgeon's short story "The Hurkle is a Happy Beast" has got six legs, the middle pair of which is essentially a pair of prongs it can rock back and forth on, and it turns invisible when anxious, among other things. The author happily calls it a "kitten" anyway.
  • Terry Jones's novelization of Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic opens with "'Where is Leovinus?', exclaimed the Gat of Blerontis, chief surveyor of the Northeast Gas District. 'No, I don't want another bloody fish-paste sandwich!'" The following paragraph explains that the terms "fish", "sandwich", "bloody", and "Northeast Gas District" are inexact approximations of alien terminology, before deciding to start over.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • The "Gin and Tonics". It's stated that every race has a drink with a name phonetically identical to "Gin and Tonics", but wildly different (such as gynnan tonix). It's a reference to something that has got anthropologists and structural linguists very excited in the real world: that just about every culture that worked out how to distill drinkable ethyl alcohol on a widespread basis went on to name the resulting spirit "water of life"—whiskey, aquavit, vodka, ouzo, eau de vie, etc. (look them up!) Not so mysterious, since alcohol kills germs and one of its main benefits in early cultures was that it could be imbibed without the health risks of drinking unpurified water.
    • Also in Hitchhikers, every Earth animal seems to have a "mega-" equivalent on Arcturus, including the Arcturan Megadonkey and the Arcturan Megacamel. There's even Arcturan Mega-Gin, an essential ingredient of the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, to go with all the Arcturan Mega-Critters. In accordance with this trope, it's worth noting that the Megadonkey, for instance, has six legs.
  • The venomous, bipedal, reptilian "horses" mentioned in the trope description are from Sheri S. Tepper's novel Grass. The novel specifically states they are nothing like Earth horses (nor are the creatures they hunt remotely like foxes), but for twisted plot-related reasons the (human) residents of Grass ride the "horses" to go "hunting" anyway.
  • In Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality series, the inhabitants of Norstrailia have creatures which are bigger than houses, completely immobile, and produce an immortality drug that makes the inhabitants filthy rich. The creatures are called "sheep". Well, they were brought to the planet as regular old sheep, then they mutated...
  • Stephen King does this a lot.
    • Comes up in a serious way in From a Buick 8. Sandy yells at Ned that the thing that came out of the Buick's trunk was not a bat, that's just the closest analogue anyone could give for the horrid thing.
    • At the climax of IT, when the children behold Its true form, the best their frail human minds can come up with is "Giant Spider". But the benevolent cosmological entity that helps Stuttering Bill really is a giant turtle.
    • There's also the "chuck" from "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut". Okay, it was woodchuck-sized and furry. It also tried to eat a car.
  • A variant occurs in David Weber's Safehold books. The humans who have settled on the planet Safehold brought lots of earth life with them, but the local animals are named 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). There are also more classic examples—there are Safeholdian grasshoppers, narwhales, and sea cows. The grasshopper is a great example of this trope—the Safeholdian grasshopper can grow up to nine inches long and is carnivorous.
  • Hell's Gate: 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 unicorns (more often called "One-Horns", but guess what unicorn means) in the Elvenbane series as well, along with mammalian shape shifting superintendent "dragons".
  • Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg wrote Nightfall (1990): The preface, "To The Reader", explains that these Human Aliens aren't actually human at all, it's a Translation Convention to make the work more accessible. The decision to utilize mostly English words and terms like "miles" and "city" rather than "vorks" and "znoob" was to make the work approachable instead of incomprehensible.
    ...our character paused to strap on his quonglishes before setting out on a walk of seven vorks along the main gleebish of his native znoob...
  • Cthulhu Mythos:
    • One of Shub-Niggurath's titles is "The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young". You'd be hard pressed to find anything less like a goat. It looks like this. Notice the people at the bottom of the image. Most depictions of her have some hoof-like protrusions in some of her tentacles. Considering that most who see her in the flesh don't survive, it's possible that she was named after the tracks she leaves when summoned. It is also possible that the "goat" appellation was a reference to its promiscuity — there are other places and situations where a libidinous individual or critter is called a goat, like a dirty old man being called a "randy old goat".
    • Also, on a weirder note, the Mi-Go are said to be called that because they were originally mistaken for the Yeti, which also goes by the name the Mi-Go. Because, of course, it's so easy to mistake a tentacle-headed, winged lobster-thing for a giant snow gorilla.
    • The Hounds of Tindalos are named mainly for their persistence in tracking down anyone whose "scent" they have picked up. Otherwise they're vaguely-described abominations that apparently hunt their victims through time, can materialize from any nearby corner they find, and presumably don't bear much if any family resemblance to canines as we know them at all.
    • In Robert E. Howard's The Valley of the Worm (apparently same continuity as Conan The Barbarian, and as such related to the Mythos), the titular creature is an Eldritch Abomination which the narrator calls a Worm because it looks "somewhat more like a worm than it did an octopus, a serpent or a dinosaur".
  • In Larry Niven's Flight of the Horse, the protagonist Svetz is from a time where most animals are extinct, and he uses a Time Machine to obtain animals for the global zoo. Unknown to him, however, his "time machine" drifts across parallel universes as it travels, and he consistently winds up bringing back mythological creatures. As even "real" (i.e., nonmagical) animals are only known from sources like poorly illustrated children's books, no-one thinks it unusual that the "horse" he brings back is actually a unicorn (but they persist in calling it a horse, and assume that the book shows a domesticated horse with its horn cut off for safety), or that the "gila monster" is actually a fire-breathing dragon. He does manage to acquire a regular whale... except that it's Moby-Dick in the flesh — complete with a dead Captain Ahab still in its jaws — and he had to avoid the Leviathan to capture it.
  • Botanical example: Khepri artists from Perdido Street Station chew a variety of berries to add color to the paste they sculpt. Colorberry varieties include blueberries and blackberries, but also redberries, yellowberries, etc. As khepri "blueberries" are described as tasting tart, not sweet, it's unlikely that they're the same thing as blueberries on Earth. (Either that or they aren't ripe. Or are "European blueberries", better known as bilberries.)
  • One smaller variety of predator from Henders Island is designated a "rat" by the researchers of Fragment, despite being as un-ratlike as a carbon-based life form is likely to get.
  • Hinted at in The Gnome's Engine, when the Duchess asks Jarl Skogsra about the Troll King's hounds. Seeing that she's looking at some huge ugly mastiffs, the Jarl corrects her: those are only the King's dogs, not his hounds. She would know the difference if she saw the latter.
  • Joy Chant's Vandarei books describe a nomadic people, the Khentorei. They ride large, powerful unicorns whom they call horses. ("Khentor" is possibly derived from "centaur" but that's neither here nor there.)
  • The Dragaera novels use elements of this trope, as Word of God holds that the "orcas" of Dragaera could use an Earth Orca (Whale) for a chew toy. The Dragaeran word for "hawk" is a special case, as it refers to diurnal birds of prey of any sort, and hence applies both to genuine hawks and to non-biologically-speaking-hawk birds of prey (i.e. Shrikes, Falcons, Ravens, Keas...)
  • Yulia Latynina's Inhuman features a character musing:
    The fact that "Eden" got into the Protection Services' hands was known to at least two dozen people. And as the old phrase goes, "What's known to two men is known to a pig." The colonel didn't understand how a "pig", a self-replicating Loellian strain of algae used for food for the poor sections of the empire, could know know anything at all, though, perhaps the word "pig" meant something different in the past. From this he figured that over the centuries pigs have changed quite a bit, while people didn't.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Wall of Darkness", Shervane and his father's traveling party includes "certain animals it is convenient to call horses".
  • In Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "Paradises Lost", the colonists of a new planet (who are just off the Generation Ship where they've lived for several generations) dub a certain kind of insect a "dog". They know it's not what the word originally referred to, but no-one's ever seen a dog, so no-one cares.
  • In the Liaden Universe, Borrill, Zhena Trelu's "dog" on Vandar, doesn't look anything like a "dog" as Val Con or Miri know them, but is called a dog by the narrative (and Val Con theorizes that it fills the same ecological/cultural niche on that world).
  • Toto, the alien pet in Helen Weinbaum's short story "Honeycombed Satellite", is a three-legged creature with a roughly tetrahedral body, a simian face, rabbit-like ears, and a habit of parroting any sound that he hears. He's also photosynthetic. The main characters nonetheless insist that he's a puppy.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • "Axehounds", while apparently dog-like in behavior, anatomically most closely resemble giant arthropods. A man from another planet lampshades this, noting that while the natives are well aware of what an axe is, they have no real hounds, making it in-universe Orphaned Etymology. Though it turns out that it was a bit of Foreshadowing for a later revelation.
    • A variant: Due to the highstorms, the vast majority of Roshar plant and animal life resembles an underwater biome, and there are no birds. Shinovar is the only exception, and has exported some birds to the rest of the continent. Since the majority are chickens, most people on Roshar refer to all forms of birds as chickens.
  • Greg Egan's Orthogonal trilogy takes place in a universe with entirely different laws of physics from our own, and thus predictably Bizarre Alien Biology. It still uses common words like "plant" and "vole" to describe things that are roughly analogous. note 
  • Used to an extent in John Carter of Mars; Carter tends to describe the Martian fauna by comparing it to the closest Earth equivalent, but most of these creatures do have their own names and are described up-front as being alien-looking. Interestingly, the novels use the terms "man" and "woman" to refer both to members of the various humanoid Martian subspecies as well as the decidedly non-humanoid Green Martians.
  • Tunnel in the Sky features high school students stranded on an alien world during a survival test. Most of the native animals and plants are given Terrestrial names for simple identification. For a time, recovering from a near-delirious daze, Rod convinces himself that they never left earth and that the lion-like creatures were lions. The primary exceptions would be the noisy, nocturnal "grand opera" and the goofy, harmless "dopy joes".
  • In Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot, the Lizard Folk-type ssyrean are sometimes referred to as "snakes" (possibly to "translate" a term from the original (hypothetical) fictional language into a more familiar one). They do have similarities, but being humanoids (with limbs), they aren't exactly an equivalent to the serpents found on Earth.
  • One early scene in China Miéville's Embassytown all but outright states that human colonists habitually do this to the native animals of colonized worlds, and that the alien creature refereed to as a rabbit on one world may bear as little resemblance to the alien creature refereed to as a rabbit on another as it does to an actual rabbit.
    Scile: That's not what we call a dog where I come from.
  • The Rifter: "Weasels", egg-laying mammals of Basawar. Basawar and our world (it is possible to cross from one to the other by a magical gate) may have been connected at some times in the past; they share some flora and fauna, but not all — there are dogs (actual dogs) but no cats in Basawar for example.
  • In Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, Mandela refers to a marine animal that the residents "in a fit of originality, named the 'shark'."
    He was twelve meters of flexible muscle with a razor sharp tail at one end and a collection of arm-length fangs at the other. His eyes, big yellow globes, were set on stalks more than a meter out from his head.
  • The narrator for the Iain Banks novella The State of the Art speaks in Marain, but for our benefit her drone provides the English translation published. She quotes one character as saying "...I have an aircraft, a launch, the choice of mount from a large stable of aphores*, even the use of what would be called a spaceship...". The translator adds a footnote saying *I thought the phonetic equivalent was better than something strained like "horsoid" — The Drone
  • Very common in the novels of Dave Duncan:
    • "Eagles" and "bats" from Shadow seem to have little in common with their Earth namesakes. For one, bats contain a narcotic drug and eagles have a prominent fleshy headcomb, which they use to communicate.
    • "Dragons", "llamas", "rabbits", "alpacas" from The Great Game trilogy are just the names Edward came up with to describe them to Earth inhabitants, somewhere between first and second novels. Locals use those names from the start because of Translation Convention.
  • Those Who Survive by Kir Bulychev (from Doctor Pavlysh series) starts with teenagers gathering mushrooms in the forest and being attacked by wolves. But when villagers rush to their rescue, wolves cover their heads with tails and roll away. Then the rescued quickly gather the mushrooms before they run away or bury themselves. Turns out, the villagers are survivors from a crashed starship living in Hungry Jungle. When Earth-born humans encounter a new animal or plant, they pick some trait and name their find after an Earth organism with the same trait. "Wolves" are lizards that hunt in packs; "bears" are bigger lizards prone to parasitic plant infection that makes them green and fuzzy; "goats" are bleating herbivores (with 6 eyes and trunks); "mushrooms" are an early stage of the life cycle of a mobile carnivorous plant (or a sessile land animal) and so on. Children born in the colony just invent their own words. In the second book adults end up naming a glue-spitting arthropod a "fastidious" (long story), because "crab" and "spider" are already taken.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series this is (unsuccessfully) defied by one of the first human biologists to land on the world of the alien atevi. The biologist argues that though there are things on the atevi's planet that look and act a lot like grass/trees/etc from the old Earth of the humans, calling them grass/trees/etc could cause humans to assume that they're exactly like the Earth lifeforms when there might be important, yet-to-be-discovered differences. The biologist is ignored and the human colonists wind up calling them grass/trees/etc.
  • Come the latter third of Catherynne M. Valente's Radiance, young Anchises' narrative of life on Venus is peppered with native Venusian animals that are named after Earth fauna — at least the narrative is upfront in pointing out the differences. Earlier on there is also a references to Plutonian "buffalo" that are actually reptilian and good at pulling carriages.
  • Jayne Castle's Harmony series features "dust bunnies", which are flat-out called bunnies but definitely have a few quirks above and beyond normal bunnies, such as extra eyes.
  • In the Night's Dawn sci-fi trilogy, author Peter Hamilton uses the word 'analogue' a lot to describe alien creatures not worth describing in detail (eg. wolf-analogue — a creature similar to a wolf). Hamilton's later Void Trilogy describes the (telepathically) genetically engineered animals inside the Void by analogy to Earth animals, quite probably given the origin of human life in the Void the Earth animals from which they evolved.
  • A Deepness in the Sky features an alien race which the human characters call "the Spiders"; they are somewhat arachnoid, but in no way related to real spiders. The humans needed to call the Spiders something, and the Spiders' own language is unintelligible, so using their own word for the species isn't possible.
  • The League of Peoples Verse: Referenced and subverted in Expendable. An explorer on an uncharted Earthlike planet glimpses a small brown animal jumping into the underbrush and immediately thinks "rabbit", even though she knows it probably isn't an actual rabbit. She suspects humans are hardwired for this. Turns out it actually is a rabbit: the planet's nonintelligent life is identical to Earth's due to Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
  • Semiosis: Human colonists on the planet Pax (and the native Plant Alien Stevland, when it learns human language) use Earth names for Pax's flora and fauna, even though the "cats" and "lions" are more kangaroo-like and the trees might have plastic bark.
  • The Long Earth features hominids in the Long Earth which are called "trolls" and "elves" by humans. "Trolls" resemble homo habilis, and "elves" (which also include related species called "grays" and "kobolds") are more like large-brained chimps. There are also intelligent wolf-like creatures that humans call "Beagles", possibly because their ability to shift between bipedal and quadrapedal stance reminded the explorers of one specific beagle.

    Live-Action TV 
  • It happens from time to time on Star Trek.
    • Calling Targs (spikey warthog-looking things) and Sehlats "cats" (or "kitties") comes to mind. The Sehlat is also called the Vulcan equivalent of a teddy bear, despite not appearing all that similar to a terrestrial teddy bear. It's alive, for one thing. As Spock was quick to point out (when McCoy seemed amused that he owned a "teddy bear" as a child) it also has six-inch fangs. According to the animated series and Enterprise, Sehlats resemble a cross between a polar bear and a smilodon, and they are quite large. One assumes their domesticated relatives come in a similar range of sizes and temperaments to terrestrial dogs.
    • In Star Trek: Enterprise, Dr. Phlox mentions the "Denobulan lemur". He goes on to clarify that "most have only one head".
    • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Odo finds himself having to corral a creature called a Gunji jackdaw. In real life, jackdaws are little smallish perching birds. This one was played by an emu.
    • The "Cardassian vole," which looks like an ugly rubber rat you'd get from a Halloween store, but has the Cardassian spoon thing on its forehead.
  • In Stargate SG-1, the Goa'uld Puppeteer Parasites are frequently called "worms" or "snakes", though those are derogatory terms not meant to be descriptive. For starter they are vertebrates, therefore they aren't worms. They also have fins, and when not engaging in parasitism their natural habitats are bodies of water — so they are closer to eel-like fish (though with three eyes distributed around the head).
  • The popular Ultraman kaiju Zetton goes by the Boss Subtitles of "Space Dinosaur". Said "dinosaur" is an insect-like humanoid creature with The Blank for a face. Supposedly, this is because Zetton's role as Ultraman's final enemy was originally intended for a reptilian monster named Saigo (who is certainly more dinosaur-like than Zetton), and although Saigo was Demoted to Extra during production, the subtitle stuck.
    • One Monster of the Week was called Hydra. Rather than being a multi-headed reptilian terror, this "Hydra" is instead a griffin-archaeopteryx creature implied to be the embodiment of a ghost's vengeance for their unjust death.
  • Stranger Things does this with its antagonists when it comes to using the names of Dungeons & Dragons monsters. Due to Pop-Cultural Osmosis, they've kinda stuck in the mainstream.
    • The Demogorgon. In D&D, it just Demogorgon, and rather than a split-jawed Humanoid Abomination, Demogorgon is a two-headed Demon Lord who looks like a tentacled baboon mixed with a giant lizard. However, he is pretty powerful and scary, like the monster the characters named after him.
    • The Mind Flayer. In D&D, mind flayers are a race of brain-eating Humanoid Abomination Cthulhumanoids with potent psychic powers whose only shared feature with the Season 2 antagonist of the same name are the tentacles.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In the Book of Revelation (also called the Apocalypse of John), there are creatures called "locusts" which have human faces, lion's teeth, breastplates of iron, giant wings whose flapping sounds like an army of horse's hooves, and stingers which cause victims to experience several months of solid pain. They're also explicitly described as doing absolutely no harm to plants which is the opposite of what actual locusts do. That said, it is a prophetic book and so uses a lot of figurative and other non-literal language.
  • Some early English translations of the Bible translate שפן - Shaphan as "rabbit" instead of "hyrax", small creatures native to Africa and the Middle East. European translators of the time had never heard of a hyrax, so they substituted a more familiar animal.
    • In modern Hebrew, shaphan is used for rabbit much more often than in the original meaning.
  • Many Greek translators turned Leviathan and Behemoth into crocodile and hippopotamus. See the descriptions in Job 40 as the "Crocodile" starts breathing fire and the "Hippopotamus" has a tree-like tail. There are some guesses as to what the Behemoth might actually be, with some bets assuming it to be entirely mythical or symbolic and others guessing that "severely distorted or exaggerated hippopotamus or other large creature" might actually be about right.
    • Leviathan is the current Hebrew word for whale. And Russian still uses Behemoth as a word for hippopotamus.
    • Fire-breathing crocodiles are a very common motif in both heraldry and mythology. It is possible that Leviathan and the various other fire-breathing crocodiles are some sort of extinct marine reptile that eventually attained legendary status and either breathed fire or appeared to do so. A more mundane explanation is that these were regular whales or sharks appearing to be aflame from swimming through glowing plankton.
  • Although the concept of "pareve" in Judaism actually means "neutral, doesn't count as meat or dairy for kashrut purposes", many popular works will simply say that for purposes of dietary law, fish (if kosher) are a vegetable. Judaism also classes all water-animals—including crocodiles and turtles—as fish, which may be where Christianity gets some of its odder classifications RE: Lenten fasts. (It's usually attributed to Aristotle, but no, Aristotle not only knew those weren't fish, he also knew whales weren't fish.)
  • The Book of Mormon contains what seem to be anachronisms, including a mention of horses pulling chariots in pre-Columbian Americanote . The current scientific consensus is that horses died out on the American continent about the same time humans first arrived. The horse was then re-introduced to the Americas in the 16th century by Europeans. There is no official LDS explanation for the few mentions of horses in the narrative, but some apologists have speculated that the book is actually referring to some native animal such as the tapir or deer. The speculation is that the Nephite civilization that had come to the Americas from the Middle East didn't have a word for tapirs and called them "horses" in their own language, which was then carried over into the English translation of the book. This idea has been heavily mocked by the ex-Mormon community, to the point where the tapir is the de facto mascot of the ex-Mormon movement (being, for example, featured in the header of the ex-Mormon reddit page).

  • Welcome to Night Vale:
    • Cecil's descriptions of Khoshekh or cats in general don't sound like anything understood under the word outside of Night Vale. Deadly poisonous, his meow is a horrible screech, doesn't purr or acts much like a cat etc.
    • Additionally, an "antique" is a deadly creature that can transform anyone it bites into another antique, a "nutmeg" is a tasty creature that must be de-veined before use, a "deer" is a creature with multiple heads and a strong belief in egalitarian anarchism, and a "chicken" is an exotic creature with antennae and dozens of spiny legs that defends itself from predators by imitating a raccoon.
    • We don't find out what exactly a "street cleaner" is, but it's some sort of monster considered horrifying even by Night Vale standards.
    • A more bizarre use of this trope occurs with the shows within shows. For example, Bambi is a horror movie and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a courtroom drama.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
  • The Talislanta game flirts with this trope, featuring "equs" (pseudo-Latin for "horse") as the most common riding beasts. Equs in Talislanta are reptile/mammal hybrids with claws, scales, manes... and (for the darkmane breed) a propensity toward foul language. Yep, the "horses" talk.
  • Rocket Age has Terrolinian Wolves, mobile carnivorous ferns, which really only fit their names in terms of behaviour. Several other species also qualify.
  • Numenera: One billion years in the future, most life forms on Earth look nothing like what they look like now. What people mean by call a tiger or an elk would be very different from what we would call by that name.
  • World Tree RPG: A lot of World Tree creatures are given the names of Earth animals with similar social roles for the sake of expedience. Horses, for instance, are named such because they're domistacated for use as pack and riding beasts despite actually being nine unrelated genera of animals, some possessing claws and feathers or bony plates or the like.

  • BIONICLE often used this, mostly in its early years:
    • Tarakava are referred to as water-dwelling lizards, when they have nothing aquatic about them (their box cover even shows them in a desert environment), what more, their immense punching arms, freaky and blocky heads, stick-like mid-sections, not to mention having tank threads for feet don't quite make them look like lizards either. The Tarakava Nui, AKA "King of Lizards'', took this further, and ended up looking like mechanized, boxing totem poles.
    • The Hapaka is said to be a dog, whereas the model looks like a miniature elephant, with a trunk and tusks and all.
    • Kavinika is a type of wolf, but has no characteristics worthy of such a designation. It looks like a bird with no wings!
    • Rock steeds are actually dinosaurs, with stinger tails.
    • Muaka is a tiger that has a dog-like head, also has a caterpillar track instead of back legs, and can extend its neck. Its only tiger-like aspect is that it has some yellow on its black body. The Kane-Ra bull, which is the same model but with a few minor aesthetic differences, at least has horns to make it resemble the animal it's meant to be.
    • Kuma-Nui. Basically a gigantic Muaka, but with two tank threads instead of one, a built like that of a gorilla, and an enormously long tail. It's a rat.
    • The Fenrakk spider, at least the "main" model (not the alternative variant sold with the playsets), has no actual spider-like traits, besides having pointy legs. It looks rather like a quadrupedal dragon.
    • Sea squids, the species used as Abnormal Ammo by the Barraki, are really leeches, even in their feeding habits, that look nothing like any kind of squid. They don't even have tentacles.
    • Shadow leeches, on the other hand, are more difficult to describe... they look like cheesy video game enemies... but at least behave like leeches, and according to the story, have long tails that unfold, unlike in the sets.
    • Bohrok tend to be described as insects or beetles, but they don't really look like anything. They do borrow a lot of Bee People tropes, but they are squat to the point of being almost spherical and have four limbs and two eyes, along with a hunched bipedal stance.
  • Transformers have the Sharkticons, who, admittedly, are robots, but even then—a Sharkticon is as wide as it is tall, its head and mouth make up most of its spherical body, and instead of fins, it has stubby, spindly limbs, including a tail with a mace-like spiked ball on the end. It's been described more accurately as a "piranha-goblin-kitten" than a shark. Even their character designer described them as "a fantasy beast" with sharklike aspects rather than a full-on shark.

    Video Games 
  • Left 4 Dead plays with this trope. The Survivors avert Not Using the "Z" Word hard, and call the zombies zombies. They give names like Witch, Hunter, and Smoker to various unique horrors ("special infected") which inhabit their world. Each special zombie has common features and distinct behaviors. They're also high priority targets and major threats. Survivors and players both use the common nicknames of the zombies to quickly identify them. Where this trope comes in is with the very prosaic names. A zombie which spits a glob of flesh-melting acid a hundred feet, allowing it to fill a room with deadly slime? Just call it "Spitter."
  • Monster Rancher has a couple.
    • The Tiger isn't a tiger. It's a wolf. And even then, it's not even a normal wolf — it has blue fur, a fluffy mane, and horns. Cue much confusion for the players. For the record, the name is a translation error. The original name sounded a great deal like "tiger" and so it stuck. If translated right, the name (Taiga) would even reference his ice abilities.
    • Speaking of Japanese names, Hare the rabbit monster is called Ham in Japanese (like a hamster, even though it clearly is not).
    • Baku also doesn't have a strong resemblance to the tapir it's named after (or even the Youkai the tapir is named after in Japanese), looking more like a giant plush dog.
  • Starcraft II gives us Zerg "Roaches", 10 foot long acid spitting organic tank beasts, and "Vipers", gigantic dragonfly-esque flying monsters whose tongues can snare enemy tanks as easily as frogs catch flies.
  • The Frog and Rat creatures from obscure action-adventure game Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy resemble neither frogs nor rats. The Frog has scales and a tail, can stand on its hind legs, and has a bright red crest (though it still hops like a frog), and the Rat is covered in razor-sharp spines. It also has a weird, dachshund-like body.
  • Due to Cultural Translation, Kapp'n the cabbie/bus driver/boat rower from Animal Crossing is called a snapping turtle, and occasionally, a parrot. He's actually a Kappa, as is made obvious by his name. Tom Nook from the same game also suffers from a tanuki-to-raccoon species change.
  • The rats in PlaneShift have one eye.
  • Warcraft
    • Giraffes in the games have antelope-style horns, orcas have small bony horns too, and raptors have a small horn on their nose (the kind that players can use as mounts has a large horn).
    • Warcraft raptors also have feathers, which is accurate, though it wasn't known to be so when the models were designed in the early 2000s.
    • Although they have now stated in several places that raptors actually pick feathers from other animals and use them for decoration, which once again brings them squarely into the realm of fiction.
    • Also several of Warcraft's mythical creatures are very different. Hippogryphs are half-raven, half-elk rather than the usual half-eagle, half-horse, and Wyverns are a cross between a bat, a lion, and a scorpion, closer to the classic description of the Manticore than the expected two-legged dragon.
    • Basilisks are six-legged lizards that live on land. Crocolisks are six-legged lizards that live in and around water.
    • Every last large cat species in the game, from lions to tigers to panthers, also have large saber teeth (with the exception of the tigers on Pandaria and the Salhet's lions).
    • Heck, very nearly every animal of every type in the series has horns, tusks, saber teeth, or some combination of the above. In particular, no matter their form, Tauren druids are always horny.
    • The so-called "Spore Bats" bear practically no resemblance to bats. Or to bats in Spore.
  • Mass Effect
    • In one sidequest of Mass Effect, you have to find a data module stolen by creatures that act like monkeys, sound kinda like monkeys, and are called monkeys... but sure as hell don't look like monkeys. And then there are the Space Cows. One is even shifty-looking... and will rob you when you're not looking.
    • Note that the monkey-like species is called "pyjak" in the second game. They are very common on the planet Tuchanka, homeworld of the Krogan. However, Wrex will never actually correct you in the first game when you refer to them as monkeys. While they are common, they aren't native. Some traders left a bunch of them at port, and even the voracious Tuchanka ecosystem hasn't managed to stamp them out.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • The "Raptors" in Final Fantasy XI are small, flightless, stumpy-winged dragons, no matter how much Square wants to identify them as Maniraptors. (The fact that they breath fire and lightning makes it even worse.) The rabbits and hares in the game have a lack of front paws, although a subspecies of them are called Rarabs.
    • Final Fantasy XII is also guilty. Real wolves and hyenas have a distinct lack of horns and tusks.
      • And alligators do not have a three-part jaw. Or fur. Or exoskeletons, though that bit isn't obvious unless you actually read the bestiary entry. Those bestiary entries also seem to think that carnivorous horses with tentacles are perfectly normal. Or chibi-style rabbits with feathery ears (some of them even have four ears) and a fluffy ball-like tail which is about the size of their body. While the Panthers do appear like big cats with dark fur, they're Coeurl-class enemies and so have a couple of tentacles growing out of their backs.
    • This has been going on since the first Final Fantasy I game; the NES version referred to underwater scorpions as "Lobsters".
    • Final Fantasy VII has Fort Condor, a mountin/fortress with what looks like a giant bronze bird statue on top. But go inside and talk to it reveals that even the main characters already know that yes, that is a real bird and no, it doesn't look out of place despite the fact that it's the size of the power reactor on top. What's it called? Well, a Condor, which is why the fort is called a Condor. It doesn't even move for the majority of the game, guarding its nest... a reactor. It layed one egg that's probably half as tall as the reactor and sits neatly in what looks like one of the reactors big chimneys to keep it warm. After completing the sidequest, the party gets to watch the egg hatch, and it does, in the process of creating the totally natural reaction of encasing the entire reactor in an energy field, leaving the parent trapped, then blowing up, killing the parent you were guarding the whole sidequest and after the baby "Condor" (still large enough to squash a human by stepping on it) flies away is a materia you can use to summon the mythical phoenix, further proof it isn't any old Condor.
      • The game also calls "clones", things that are, well, not clones. Real clones are new individuals produced using genetics and cells from another person, while FFVII clones are people already alive who are modified and injected with Jenova's DNA to achieve similar powers to Sephiroth. Crisis Core changes it to Copies because of that.
    • What Final Fantasy IV calls an "antlion" is a monstrous brown creature larger than a man which resembles no Earth animal and looks nothing like a real antlion except for its oversized tusks.
    • Final Fantasy IX has Ragtime Mouse- which certainly doesn't look like any mouse we know, and there are mice people in the game. Also, the music playing during the encounter certainly isn't ragtime.note 
  • In the Tales Series, if it's a monster and it's named after a real animal, don't expect it to look much like said animal. The most common example of this are the wolves, who aside from their canine body shape generally look more like reptiles then anything else.
    • In Tales of Symphonia, Lloyd insists that Noishe is a dog, despite the presence of real dogs that look nothing like him. The rest of the world either lampshades this or just plays along. This is, however, justified: Lloyd reveals in Heimdall that he calls Noishe a dog because he knows that he's not a wolf, so he just assumed he was a dog. We later find out that Noishe is something called a protozoan... but he doesn't look anything like our protozoans either. Noishe is called protozoan because of its legend. It is the "first animal". If you know Scottish mythology Noishe is a (type of mythological) dog. His name is pronounced nearly identical to "Cu Sith" (Pronounced Cu Shee), and he matches the physical description of one.
      • They also have a large, furry, bipedal and somewhat troll-like monster that could legitimately have been called a Bigfoot, a Troll, or possibly a Bugbear. It's simply called a Bear. The Palette Swap of it, encountered later in the game, is an Egg Bear, compounding the nonsense.
    • The sequel: Dawn of the New World actually justifies this by introducing a large canine monster that bears a strong resemblance to Noishe... then it introduces the Griffin as a monster with only two legs and a wolf-like head.
    • Repede in Tales of Vesperia looks like a wolf with a blue mane and a sickle-like tail, but he's referred to as just a dog. The prequel movie even shows other dogs who look just like Repede, all referred to as just "dogs".
    • Likewise, the "Ligers" in Tales of the Abyss are massive green-and-purple canines that shoot lightning and reproduce by laying eggs. They are also hinted to be matriarchal in nature.
  • The "rats" in Chrono Trigger's 2300 AD bear only vague resemblances to their real-life counterparts. Since most creatures in the future are mutants, though, this might be justified.
  • Half-Life
  • Zeno Clash contains "wrathbirds" and "squirrels". The squirrels are very similar to real squirrels, but the wrathbirds that look nothing like a bird, and share the elongated ears and large rear paws of a rabbit.
  • Halo:
    • One race of aliens called the Kig-yar are also referred to as "Jackals" by humans, because everyone knows jackals are not small dog-like canids but humanoid... bird... things. This is what they look like. However, it's explicitly stated that the nickname was given because of their scavenging and mercenary ways.
    • The flightless birds seen in Halo: Reach are named moa, after the extinct real-life species. The latter were 12 feet tall and completely wingless, while the Reach birds are smaller and have rudimentary wings.
  • Dwarf Fortress: A bunch of goblins are knocking on our door riding beak-dogs? Okay, dogs with beaks ain't so bad — Urist McHammerer, take 'em — OH GOD, WHO LET THE VELOCIRAPTORS IN THE DOOR!? As this is simultaneously a mundane-sounding name for an exotic creature and an unusual name for an earthly creature, this doubles as Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp", a rare achievement.
    • Additionally, Fluffy Wamblers are often called "sheep" by players, despite being humanoid agricultural pests 1/3 the size of a cat.
  • Whatever those things are in The Legend of Dragoon, they are most certainly not horses.
  • Rogue:
    • The original game is not a definite case, since no pictures or descriptions are provided — but what sort of emu lives in a dungeon?
    • TileRogue, a graphical version, is a definite case. An emu resembles a griffin, a rattlesnake is hooded like a cobra, and a kestrel has two heads.
  • Common in older JRPGs due to name space constraints and/or poor translation combined with the reuse of sprites. The Final Fantasy Legend features the Wolf and Jaguar, but both monsters use the same graphic of a tiger. Okay, so at least one of those is another type of big cat.
  • Most Pokémon actually have real animal names for their species names.
    • For example, Pikachu is the "Mouse Pokemon". Although it does look vaguely rodent-like, its resemblance to an actual mouse is nil.
    • Some of these are particularly stupid, like Sandslash being called a mouse when it is clearly a pangolin.
    • Cradily is called the "Barnacle Pokemon", despite being based on a crinoid, which are in an entirely different phylum.
    • The most ridiculous of these would likely be Blastoise, a giant turtle, being referred to as a shellfish.
    • Some of the actual names are pretty bad too. Houndoom/Houndour are named after Hounds but are pretty clearly dobermans (that breath fire, but that's where "doom" comes in). There's also the pokemon Golem, who evolved from a rock with a face to a boulder with a face, but aside from being rocky has no resemblance to the mythical Golems (and there are actual Golem pokemon too). Psyduck and especially Golduck bear a much closer resemblance to Platypi than ducks.
    • Wooper is referred to as a "water fish" and Mudkip as a mudfish. Both look more like axolotls than fish, though mudskippers are fish in the latter's case, lack of resemblance aside.
    • Also happens in the Japanese names. Charmeleon, the fire breathing bipedal salamander/chameleon with a tail perpetually lit? That's called a Lizard.
    • In Pokémon Sun and Moon and Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, lemonade can be brought from cafes. Lemons are never seen on-screen so it's unknown if they exist in the franchise, however the vendor does mention the lemonade is made with berries. That said, the word "Berry" is, in and of itself, sort of an example (it refers to all fruit in the Pokemon universe), and there is one (Nomel Berry) that sort-of resembles a lemon.
  • In Digimon, the obviously rabbit Patamon is called a mouse, as well. Then the rodent Cartoon Creature is called Opossumon and it behaves like a cat.
  • The Martian Expedition team In Waking Mars refers to most of the life forms you interact with as plants and seeds. ART the on-board AI constantly argues the point that the Martian life forms are not plants, and gives everything grandiose Canis Latinicus names instead.
  • In Mabinogi, The southern region of the continent of Iria (which is a cross between Africa, Australia, and the American Southwest) tends to scale up their animals and tweak them to look more like other animals (such as fennec foxes that look like large hyenas from behind, and mongooses that are two feet tall at the shoulder). Compare the original continent of Uladh (loosely based on ancient Britain), which uses smeerps sparingly (with the exception of Dire Whatevers).
  • Doom:
    • Most of the higher-level monsters had fairly unusual names, especially in Doom II but the novels played this trope to the hilt, throwing in "Pinkies" and "Pumpkins", along with other non-animal designations of "Clydes", "Bonies" and "Fire eaters" amongst others.
    • Maggots (two-headed crawling demons) and Ticks (exploding giant spiders) in Doom 3.
  • Touhou: Most youkai in Gensokyo appear as if they were youkai in stats only. Check out the Cute Monster Girl entry.
    • There's also the use of "youkai" as a catch-all term for supernatural beings, including some more distinctively western creatures like the Scarlet sisters (European-style vampires).
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Yoshi's Island has Poochy, a sort of... canine/amphibian hybrid thing with huge lips, no ears and a tongue nearly the size of the rest of its body. It's simply referred to as a "dog" in-game.
    • There's also Ravens, which look like pudgy, vaguely avian wingless blobs with feet, and Buzzy Beetles, which neither buzz nor are they insects (instead being more like turtles).
    • The ghost dog in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is also similarly shaped to Poochy, including the lack of ears. It seems that dogs in the Mushroom Kingdom are ear-less animals.
    • Do you remember the iconic mushroom-men from the Mario games? They're called Toads! But they don't look like actual toads in the slightest! Their name is derived from "toadstool", which their heads at least resemble.
  • Donkey Kong:
    • The title character's name plays with this trope. Donkey Kong is an ape, not a donkey. The Japanese creator Shigeru Miyamoto evidently chose the English name "Donkey" to convey the idea of stubbornness. Then again, "Donkey" appears to be a given name. When you think about it, a gorilla named Donkey isn't too much weirder than a human named Robin or Leo. The Donkey Kong Country series also weirdly combines this trope with Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp", as all the primate characters are called "Kongs" (presumably in reference to King Kong).
    • The "Iguanadon" of Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a giant gecko with hair.
  • The Barracuda Sharks in Quake II more resemble deep-sea viperfish than either of the former. The Hornet is a giant half-insectoid half-humanoid flyer.
  • Septerra Core. Certain monsters — especially Thunder Cats (which, in spite of vaguely feline gait and ecosystem role, look more like stone rhinos) and various things marked as spiders and beetles which look very little like their Earth equivalents.
  • The Lemmings in Lemmings actually look more like humanoid green-haired creatures than actual lemmings, which are rodents. The only similarity is the fact that both actually tend to walk off cliffs to their deaths in huge groups. Apart from real lemmings, that don't.
  • Several enemies in the Chaos Rings series are like this, with the dolphins being one of the most bizarre. The games explain it as these monsters, called congloms, are created by from the DNA of terrestrial animals, but that doesn't really explain why they aren't given new names.
  • Xenoblade skirts this and Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" in it monsters (at least in the English release), many are variants of normal animals with variations of normal animal names. To wit, Antols are ants the size of a dog, Brogs are large frogs with armored scales on their backs. There are also Ponios, Skeeters, Krabbles, Piranhaxes, etc.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, all of Alrest's sapient humanoid races are referred to collectively as "humans". Several of them, such as the Leftherians and Ardainians, are indeed indistinguishable from normal humans, but then there's the Gormotti (cat-eared people), Urayans (who have pointed ears and scaly regions on their skin), and Indoline (tall and slender with pointed ears, bluish skin tones, and exceptionally long lifespans).
  • The species Jak and Daxter belong to have massively long pointy ears, apparently unlimited hair colors (often even multicolored), and its sages have green, blue, red or yellow skin. What do they call themselves? Humans.
  • In Pikmin, Captain Olimar crash lands on a strange world and comes up with names — common and scientific — for many of the plants and animals. A whole family of creatures get christened "Bulborbs" because Olimar thinks they look like his pet dog, Bulbie. To clarify, it's not so much that these smeerps are being called rabbits: it's that the ones on his own planet are.
  • The Borderlands series: Spiderants, massive four-legged insects with tough exoskeletons. While they seem to have a "society" somewhat like ants, physiologically they have little in common with spiders or ants (and, really, any real-world insect or arachnid you can name):
  • In Etrian Odyssey most of the monsters are named after real life animals, so you have chubby green Hares, white and purple Mantises with pink wings, Largeants that look more like spiders with a skull for a face, Sloths that more closely resemble a gorilla, and so on...
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • The series has numerous examples when it comes to the series' Fantasy Metals. Ebony is a real life type of wood. Quicksilver is another name for real life mercury. Corundum is a real life type of crystal. Glass is...well, real life glass. In this universe, all function as metals which can be formed into ingots and used to forge weapons/armor.
    • In Skyrim, mammoths have two pairs of tusks (it stands out, as the other two almost-but-not-quite-Earth animals have Smeerpy names).
  • Murfy from the Rayman series. Officially speaking, he's a greenbottle fly. However, his design goes to such Cartoon Creature extremes (he only has four limbs instead of six, for example, seems to have skin instead of an exoskeleton, and to say nothing of his huge and perpetually grinning mouth) that he's more often taken for some kind of flying frog than a fly.
  • "Flint stones" in Clonk are spherical, bright red, and explode when they hit a solid surface.
  • The Wind Fish in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is actually a flying whale (which are mammals, not fish). It's eventually lampshaded by the game itself.
  • Guild Wars 2 has winged lizard creatures with long tails that it calls "bats". The use of this trope is even stranger because in the previous game there were called "incubi".
  • Cubivore's pigs, bears and birds are nothing like the animals we know, especially not the birds.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV has the protective warriors of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado who don Western-looking garb and weapons. Despite this, they're called "Samurai". It makes a slight amount of sense when you consider that Mikado was built on top of Tokyo.
  • FreezeME has one sidequest where you must round up a farmer's pet "guinea pigs." Said guinea pigs are blue, have bulging eyes, and look like actual pigs without arms or legs.
  • In Dishonored, pretty much all animals in the setting function under this. Dogs look like pitbulls with crocodilian heads, whales have tentacles, rats travel in swarms like bugs, and that's not even getting into the bizarre things living over on Pandyssia. Word of God noted that the design team wanted the animals to look identifiable but subtly alien, like an animalistic version of Uncanny Valley.
  • In The Neverhood, there is one moment when the protagonist finds a music box. Upon examination, it plays first three bars from "Pop Goes the Weasel". Then the box stops playing... and a weasel appears right behind the protagonist, accompanied with the fourth bar. Said "weasel" is a freakish green crustacean-like mess of pincers; all official information sources refer to it by this name.
  • The Fallout series has "centaurs", the embodiment of Body Horror. They have human heads and torsos, after a fashion. They also have six legs (all of which look like human arms), a second canine head (in Fallout and Fallout 2), three tentacle-like tongues (in 3 and New Vegas), and no visible horse-like traits.
  • Sunless Skies:
    • "Locomotives" only sort-of look like locomotives, don't move on rails, don't have wheels, and cross outer space rather than land, but since locomotives is what they initially came from, and Steampunk is in full swing, then locomotives is what they'll be.
    • Due to a lack of cardinal directions in space, London got fairly lost when it came to coordinates. Due to the influence North (as in the direction) had on their development, they decided to start fixing things by picking a star that seemed fixed in the sky, calling it North and going from there.
    • Worlebury-Juxta-Mare has to heavily depend on this to sell itself, and it seems to work. To a Londoner eager to visit the beach, "sand" means "jumble of ground rock and glass and wormy tendrils", a heavily corrosive roiling mist can well qualify as "sea", and the definition of "fish" can be happily stretched to include things that you should never even try calling fish. And the less you ask about the donkeys for the donkey rides, the better. Londoners really do miss The Great British Seaside, and they will keep going to the beach even if they have to call that a beach.
  • Sea Maggots in Darkest Dungeon look like mutant snails. Oddly, the game also has enemies called Maggots which look like real-life maggots, albeit much larger.
  • Hollow Knight's Flukemons and Flukefeys look nothing like parasitic flukes, and are closest to annelid worms, particularly leeches.
  • Metroid: Polyps and Dragons have a superficial resemblance to what those words are meant to describe at best, although at least Dragons do resemble seahorses.
  • Gift: The Dogs resemble four-legged spider-like creatures with large heads and blank black faces rather than actual animals. Also the Cosmonauts are penguin- or frog-like creatures with green scarves and antennae on their heads.
  • Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future has a mild example in a couple of the alternate future "dolphin" species that take more cues from beaked whales than dolphins. The Clan seem to be nonspecific beaked whales, with tusks and generally beaked whale-y body plans, while the Movers are dead ringers for Cuvier's beaked whales. At least they're still cetaceans!
  • One of the bosses of Demon's Crest is a giant blue snail named Holothurion. A holothurian is a sea cucumber.
  • Octopath Traveler: Alfyn's final boss, the "Ogre Eagle", is a griffon.

    Web Animation 
  • Parodied in "Pikmin But Really Really Fast" where after Olimar names the Onion and Pikmin according to the lore from the game, he decides to call a "box-shaped" cardboard box a "box," the "blulblorb-shaped" creatures "Bulborbs," and the "shmurrowing shmagret-shaped" creatures "Burrowing Snagrets."

  • Last Res0rt:
    • Every now and then there's a mention of Jason's dog, Sunny. Said dog has metallic, scaly legs, and a mane on top of that.
    • White Noise (an aged Anyr hacker) gets called a horse pretty often too, but he objects to that. Loudly.
  • El Goonish Shive has Jeremy the "cat". That's Jeremy "the creature that nature never intended", in fact actually. Although, given his behavior, he might as well be a cat. Word of God claims half-cat, half-hedgehog.
  • The pet "bird" of Spatch II in Rice Boy. Has no beak (but a small forked horn instead), neither arms nor wings, sits on his swing like a human, and says: "Fuh!"
  • The Bull from Tower of God. Which looks nothing like a bull. It's more like a giant bipedal newt whose head has evolved similar to that of a flounder, except that it still has an eye on each side. Furthermore, it has a lure like an anglerfish to attract in curious people and has a skin cape growing from it's back. And the scariest thing is, it eats meat and has opposable thumb enabling it to wield a big-ass lance which it uses to hunt. So clearly, this is nothing like a normal bull.
  • The wildlife of Tethys in Harbourmaster has some similarities to Earth life. Thus, the colonists gave them names that approximated what they seemed like. For instance, there's the wolf shark, a shark-like creature that hunts in packs like wolves would. Not used for naming were the orca-like patterning and their use of electrical pulses for both communication and attack.
  • Lampshaded with respect to Pokémon in Super Effective when Green reads the Pokedex entry for Pikachu, the "Mouse Pokémon". ("What's a mouse?")
  • Awful Hospital: The creatures the Open Wound calls Siamese cats have "gel cores" and a habit of shedding their biovessels. Although, since it's implied that all concepts, including grey-zone ones, have gel cores and similar technobabble-y things, they may simply be normal cats that tend to die a lot.

    Web Original 
  • Sythyry's Journal references a character's "horse" a few times, then makes some comments about said horse pecking at people with its beak.
  • This series zig-zags furiously. It takes place in a distant future where humanity as we know it doesn't exist. While the space weredog member of the duo likes dog-related idioms — turning "carrot and stick" into "treat and (rolled-up) newspaper", for example —, several items seem similar to their usual variants, at first. But "doorknobs" are apparently touchscreen devices that can be hacked, and windows have sliders to control their opacity instead of shades or curtains. Amusingly, uncoffee doesn't exist; several alien races with precognitive ability exported coffee off-earth before humanity died.
  • ClickHole's "When I Started Writing ''Game Of Thrones'', I Didn't Know What Horses Looked Like" features George R. R. Martin confessing that he didn't know what horses actually looked like when he started writing, and accidentally ended up with this trope in his attempts to write around his ignorance.
  • Mystery Flesh Pit National Park's Macrobacteria are not actually bacteria at all, but rather echinoderms that have evolved certain similarities to bacteria as some sort of adapatation to their environment, as explained here.
  • In this story from Not Always Right, a customer refers to Ewoks as "little dogs".
  • The SCP Foundation's SCP-682 is known as the Hard-to-Destroy Reptile. While it may look reptilian, it's actually something so alien that it sees Earth lifeforms as horrific monstrosities that must be killed. (Also, the original photograph used to represent it is the half-rotten corpse of a beached whale.)
  • Spec World, naturally, has some fun with this. Many of the animals look an awful lot like Earth animals but are biologically very different. Thus we have Unmice, Notacoons, Toothawks, and Baygulls among others. They're just as likely to name animals after fictional species and characters, however.
  • Serina has birds called squorks, falconaries, sparrowgulls and porporants. However, despite being named after such birds, they're actually all descendants of canaries and are unrelated to gulls and falcons and others. There is also a creature literally called a smeerp: a three-legged small herbivore that actually looks and acts a lot like a rabbit, except that it's actually a tribbethere, a group of tripedal, mammal-like terrestrial fish descended from guppies.
  • In the Vilous setting, there are three races that call themselves humans, none of which look anything like humans, sergals, agudners, and nevreans. They are descended from a common ancestor race that was similar to humans, but you wouldn't know that from looking at them. The word human sometimes also includes beings that have been granted human rights, though the other sapient species in the setting look even less human. There also is a ton of wildlife in the setting that are named after earthly creature that they have very little resemblance to and don't have the justification that the "humans" have. There are "dogs", "wolves", "cows", "weasels", and "hamsters" that are so alien that many of them resemble insects or other invertebrates more than what they are named after. And the "plants" that are part of the same organism group as those weird creatures are not really plants and function more like primitive sessile animals.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • "Penguins" have four wing-flippers and mammalian noses and whiskers instead of beaks. They're also big enough that two kids can use them as sleds. This example is made odder by the fact that most of the animals in the series have hyphenated names to reflect their mixed-and-matched features. They're called otter-penguins according to the supplemental book The Lost Scrolls: Water.
    • There's also the sky bison/wind buffalo, which look like giant, six-legged bovines, which brings up the question of how they fly. The answer is that they were the original Airbenders, like badger-moles were the original Earthbenders.
    • Momo, who looks like a mix between a bushbaby and a bat, is just a "lemur" in the series. However he's called a lemur-bat in the movie.
    • Rhinos, which look like a mammalian version of a triceratops.
    • When the protagonists get a chance to see a no-modification, no-special-abilities, completely ordinary run-of-the-mill bear, they become genuinely confused.
      Aang: You mean platypus-bear?
      Katara: No, it just says "bear".
      Sokka: Certainly you mean his pet skunk-bear.
      Toph: Or his armadillo-bear!
      Aang: Gopher-bear?
      Katara: Just... bear.
      Toph: This place is weird.
  • Wildmutt from the Ben 10 franchise is referred to as a dog, which is pretty reasonable except it has ape arms, gill-like flaps that it uses to smell, and neither eyes nor ears. And when we see adults of Wildmutt's species, they don't look like dogs either—they actually look more like tigers.
  • The "Hornet" monsters (also called "Frelion") in Code Lyoko are green, ten-winged, spike-mouthed, poison-spitting digital beasts, and aside from their "stingers" (which shoot [Frickin' Laser Beams), they aren't very hornet-like. Similarly, the monsters called "crabs", while red and flat, have four long, spindly legs instead — though their name is spelled "Krabe", despite its pronunciation. Eventually lampshaded in Season 2 when Odd dubs the new monsters that slaughtered the team "tarantulas"; when Yumi responds in confusion, Odd repeats his name choice and says that he likes for his enemies to have names.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes:
    • Cerbee; everyone refers to him as a dog. He barks like a dog, is named after a dog, and does several dog things — but he's a small, one-eyed horned monster who, other than having four legs, looks little like a dog.
    • Also the Weevils. Real weevils are a type of beetle. The weevils in Jimmy Two-Shoes are furry chipmunk-like rodents. There is actually a reason behind the name — it's a combination of "weasel" and "evil".
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series: Some of Mrs. Hasagawa's pet "cats" are actually aliens. To say nothing of Stitch himself. Lilo immediately thinks of him as a "dog", a cover which is used often in the series (to the point that Stitch was able to enter a dog show). Lampshaded by Lilo's sister in the movie, when describing Stitch to a friend over the phone:
    Nani: I think it might be a koala... an evil koala.
  • In Quasi at the Quackadero, Quasi and Anita are supposed to be ducks, but look nothing like ducks.
  • The dogs (as in pets, not the occasional anthropomorphic dog) in The Amazing World of Gumball used to look nothing like dogs at all: some of them are brightly colored and cyclopean, some look like a quadrupedal version of Domo, and yet others are living hot dogs. Eventually, the show's art style shifted to more realistic animals, with normal dogs appearing more and more, and the strange ones appearing less. Compare the dogs mentioned above with these ones. "The Anybody" also features a realistic beagle, etc.
  • A version of this appears in a episode of Young Justice. One alien character is named for an animal which does not exist, but he decides that he shall be called Wolf. Superboy immediately defies this trope this by introducing the alien to his wolf named Wolf. Then the alien decides on the name "Bear".
  • Played for Laughs in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where Aquaman's power to talk to fish extends to silverfish, which Batman points out are actually insects.
    • In another episode, Batman is transported to an alien world called Zur-En-Arrh, where the local hero, also called Batman, is inspired by a large winged monstrosity...called a bat.
  • My Little Pony as a whole is an example when you look at it closely. They might be roughly equine-shaped, but giving the moniker of "ponies" to creatures that are sapient, multicolored, with magical tattoos gained at puberty... it's a stretch once everything is taken into consideration. This is perhaps more pronounced with G3.5 and G4 ponies, who as many horse lovers can tell you, only barely resembles anything equine.
  • The Crumpets: The characters are referred as humans, which otherwise have a big pink or blue squeaky nose, pale skin (darker skin also exists), and paw-like toes for some characters while there's also human-like toes. Some animals like dogs and worms can also have these noses.

    Real Life 
  • Very small children invoke this trope all the time, calling pretty much anything with fur either "doggie" or "kitty", and anything with wings a "bird". It's called "overextension". In one cute example, a child referred to a crab as a 'special tortoise'.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the scientific ordering and names of various flora and fauna are not set in stone. They can and are subject to changes depending on new research, and animals once thought to be related to another can later be considered unrelated at all, which can invoke cases of this trope. One example: Bobcats' scientific name was changed from Felis rufus to Lynx rufus.
  • The Minehead Hobby Horse, an English tradition, looks more like a boat than a horse.
  • Whether the large, wooly bovines of North America are called "bison" or "buffalo" has caused more than one heated debate in its day. However, "buffalo", though once deprecated, is becoming seen as acceptable again. After all, American bison were first called "buffalo" (from French "boeuf" meaning "ox") in 1635; the term "bison" (from Greek "bison" also meaning ox) was first used for them in 1774. While they are certainly more similar to European bison, they're nearly always called "buffalo" in the regions where they're actually found — which is what "common name" means — and the binomial nomenclature prevents there being any confusion among zoologists.
  • When American settlers first encountered the large deer species Cervus canadensis in North America, they called it the "elk", since they deemed it closest to that European deer in appearance and size. However, when they encountered the same species that Europeans call elk (Alces alces), they used the Algonquin name "moose". To further complicate matters, C. canadensis is closely related to and is sometimes classified as the same species as the European "red deer", C. elaphus (though the Red Deer is somewhat smaller). Even so, it seems both cultural spheres have kept their respective namings to the present day. And to make sure everyone is extra-confused, Europeans eventually realised that a large species of deer living in parts of East Asia (like Mongolia, eastern Siberia, and parts of China) was C. canadensis, and therefore called it "wapiti"—a name taken from an Algonquian language.note  So the same animal has a European name in North America and a North American name in Asia. (Europeans today talking about North American C. canadensis are also likely to call them wapiti, but that's mostly because they think of A. alces as "elk".)
  • American Pronghorn Antelope are no more related to Old World antelopes than to goats, deer, and cattle, though they do share a certain resemblance. They are, in fact, the last remnants of an otherwise extinct uniquely American group of animals. The pronghorn family, Antilocapridae, is a sister group to both the Cervidae or "deer family" and to the Bovidae, which includes cattle (including buffalo and bison), goats (including sheep), and the various other kinds of "antelope". And giraffes. The "antelopes" of the Old World are typically no more closely related to each other than to other Bovid groups like goats or cattle.
  • The muskox is not a bovine, it's actually more closely related to sheep and goats than to cattle.
  • Red pandas, a.k.a. firefoxes, are neither foxes, nor close relatives of the giant panda. Not called "red raccoons", despite looking quite a bit like exactly that, because it's only in the last few decades that non-Americans even knew what a raccoon was (or at least didn't think of them as every bit as exotic and not-a-basis-for-comparison as, say, kangaroos).
    • The giant panda was named after the red panda, not the other way around. If they looked a bit more alike, "panda bear" would be an entirely appropriate name for the black-and-white panda, which (this decade) is classified with the other bears.
  • Speaking of American raccoons, their Russian name is derived from the "genet" — a Mediterranean fur animal with a similar tail.
  • On the other hand, giant pandas have flip-flopped on this trope. Originally thought to be bears, their unusual coloring and lifestyle led some to conclude that they must be instead related to red pandas and thusly, according to the knowledge of the time, to raccoons. Thanks to genetic testing and other newer techniques, it's now known that neither species is part of the raccoon family. Giant pandas are now firmly acknowledged as bears, while red pandas are placed in their own family, Ailuridae (and are closest to the common ancestor of bears, raccoons, weasels and skunks).
  • European explorers did this a lot when they came to Australia.
    • Koala "bears" are marsupials, not bears. Australians (and many other folks, too) usually just call them "koalas" now.
    • Rottnest ("Rat Nest") Island in Western Australia was so called because a Dutch explorer thought the quokkas (small kangaroo-like marsupials) there were rats.
    • The thylacine, a marsupial that went extinct in the twentieth century, was also called the "Tasmanian tiger" due to the stripes on its back, or the "Tasmanian wolf" due to its vaguely canine shape.
    • The echidna was originally called the spiny anteater (it does eat ants, but it is unrelated to the animals known as anteaters).
    • There are no alligators in the Alligator River—indeed, there are no alligators native to anyplace other than the United States and China. There are, however, plenty of crocodiles.
    • The Australian Magpie is only distantly related to the Eurasian Magpie (which is in the same family as crows and ravens). It manages to look more crow-like than its namesake though.
    • "Flying foxes" are bats, not foxes.
  • Guinea Pigs, being small furry rodents, have no actual relation to pigs; this was used for comedic effect in the 1905 short story "Pigs is Pigs" and Disney's 1954 animated adaptation of the story. It's generally held that domestic cavies were first called "guinea pigs" because they were commonly kept (on ships, which used them as food supplies while at sea) in enclosures resembling miniature pig-pens; they're also built like pigs and make many similar noises. The German name for them, "Meerschweinchen", actually means "little dolphin", "Meerschwein" ("sea pig") having been the older German word for dolphin. In Spanish they are know as "Conejillos de Indias" (Indian Bunnies) and while they sorta look more like rabbits than to pigs, the name is also misleading, In Peru, Chile and other Andean regions they are simply known as "Cuys", which is an accepted term that ends all confusion - but so is the Hebrew term, "שַׁרְקָן" ("Whistler"; pronounced sharkan), since a guinea pig makes whistle-like noises when hungry or scared. Another English term for them that averts this trope entirely is "Cavy", but is not nearly as popular.
  • Porcupines got their name from the Middle French porc espin ("spined pig") since their body shape and snout resembles that of pigs, but they're actually rodents. Fortunately, most people know this.
  • Hedgehogs aren't related to pigs. Their name dates back to the Middle English of the 15th century; it was known as heyghoge, and called such because it was frequently seen in hedgerows (heyg), and had a snout like that of a pig (hogge). This one is clearly still relatively common knowledge, to the point that their name has changed spelling to keep up with the modern versions of the words "hedge" and "hog".
  • Groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) are rodents, not pigs, but were called that because their burrowing habits were reminiscent to pigs. Their very names are even subject to lingual limbo: "groundhog" is a calque of the Dutch word aardvark (itself a name for an animal which is unrelated to pigs, but named such for the same reasons as groundhogs). "Woodchuck" doesn't actually refer to chucking wood, but is derived from the Algonquian name for them: wuchak.
  • Prairie dogs were given their name by French explorers, but they're small burrowing rodents, and look nothing like dogs. They were probably named "prairie dogs" because they can bark like a real dog, though. Even the genus of their scientific name, Cynomys, is Greek for "dog mouse."
  • The tanuki suffers from a bit of this. They're canids often misidentified as a raccoon or a badger. Its English name is raccoon-dog. Same for many other languages.
  • When Chinese explorer Zheng He brought a live giraffe back from Africa in 1414, Chinese scholars identified it with a mythological beast called the qilin, based on some superficial similarities between the two. Post-15th-century representations of qilin in art look a lot more like giraffes than the original creature, a chimera with the head and horns of a dragon and the body of a horse. In Japan and Korea, giraffes are still known as "kirin" to this day.
    • Hence, the Pokémon Kirinriki (it's a palindrome in the original Japanese characters (キリンリキ), just as its English name Girafarig is a palindrome).
  • The Japanese name for the tapir is "baku", after a dream-eating mythical creature that it very vaguely resembles. Most modern portrayals of the mythical baku are simply tapirs outright, only with the abilities of the mythical creature.
  • Hares aren't considered part of the group of genera as other rabbits, though they're all still in the same family — hares don't burrow and aren't born blind or hairless. That means, technically, "jackrabbits" (another name for hares) is a misnomer, but that's just splitting hares.
  • Sabre-Toothed Cat: Originally coined the Sabre-toothed tiger, they have no relation to modern day tigers other than being cats. Though in most modern media, their proper name Smilodon, or simply "sabertooth", has started gaining traction.
  • The Hyracotherium has been a victim of this. It was formerly named Eohippusnote  to give horses an evolutionary ancestor, even though it looks nothing like a horse. It's discoverer, Sir Richard Owen, named it Hyracotherium because it looked most similar to the hyraxnote .
  • Thylacoleo, a large extinct predator of Australia, is commonly known as the "marsupial lion". However, it wouldn't even have looked anything like a lion, as it was closely related to the diprotodont marsupial family and was essentially a giant, carnivorous wombat.
  • Many people assume that any creature whose genus name ends in "-saur" must be a dinosaur, but this isn't true:
    • Pterosaurs, usually generically called pterodactyls, aren't true dinosaurs, but ornithodirans, a clade that includes both dinosaurs AND pterosaurs. The clade Ornithodira, in turn, is one of the two branches of the archosaur family, with the other branch being crocodiles and their various extinct relatives.
    • The same also applies for marine reptiles like sauropterygians (the famous plesiosaurs+ pliosaurs+ nothosaurs+ placodonts) and ichthyopterygians (ichthyosaurs+ thallattosaurs). The same goes for Basilosaurus, which is a whale, although it was initially misidentified as a reptile.
    • Mosasaurs (famed for their iconic role in Jurassic World), are not dinosaurs either: in fact they're actual lizards, and are closely related to varanids such as the modern-day Komodo Dragon.
    • Sometimes Dimetrodon is also called a dinosaur, but it turns out that it isn't even a reptile (at least, it isn't in any of the modern reptile groups), but actually a synapsid: early land tetrapods diverged early in the Permian into the sauropsids, the family including all reptiles as well as dinosaurs and birds, and the synapsids, a diverse group of animals characterized by differentiated teeth and a single pair of skull openings, that includes all modern day mammals, including humans. You heard that right: YOU are more closely related to Dimetrodon, than Dimetrodon was to any dinosaur that ever lived.
  • Many of the strange invertebrates of the Cambrian era also get this treatment, as many of them were named with the sufix "-caris", meaning "shrimp". This includes Sanctacaris, a relative of sea scorpions, Nectocaris, a squid-like molusc, and most famously Anomalocaris, who even keeps getting refered to as a "prehistoric giant shrimp" in laymen's publications, despite not looking anything like one and being actually closer related to velvet worms.
  • Early explorers, biologists, and colonists named many North American birds for their resemblances to Old World species. When Science Marched On, more than a few resemblances proved superficial ...
    • The American Robin and its relatives in other parts of the New World were named by colonists for the European Robin, probably due to the red breasts on both birds ("Robins" are more archaically known as "Robin Redbreasts"). Later, biologists classified both birds (and their related species) as thrushes, but recently the European Robin and its Eurasian cousins have been put in the family of Old World Flycatchers (which are, in turn, not very close relatives of New World Flycatchers), though the New World birds called robins are still classified as thrushes (all of which fit into the Turdus genus; other New World thrushes, with the exception of bluebirds and solitaires, tend to be explicitly called thrushes).
    • New World Orioles (family Icteridae) were named for the Old World Orioles (the mostly African family Oriolidae)—as with the New World Robins, it was likely due to similar appearances.
    • Also in the Icteridae family: American Blackbirds (genus Agelaius). They were named for their predominantly black colors, much like the Common Blackbird, a European thrush who is therefore a relative of... the American Robin, even sharing a genus with it.
    • Another group of Icteridae members, the Meadowlarks hardly look like a real lark (of which there is only one species, the Horned Lark, native to North America; Europeans call it the Shore Lark)—but it sings like one.
    • Certain parts of the Americas also refer to vultures as buzzards. This is an old name for birds of the genus Buteo, which includes such species as the Red-tailed Hawk and its relatives, none of which look anything like vultures. The word hawk, in turn, traditionally referred only to the smaller, bird-hunting Accipiters, such as Goshawks, "Sharpies", Sparrowhawks, etc. To make matters even more confusing, the North American buzzard/vultures (family Cathartidae) bear only a superficial resemblance to the old world vultures; they are closer kin to the Andean and California Condors than to their bald-headed namesakes.
    • The American Kestrel used to be called a Sparrow Hawk, but its name was changed to recognize its closeness to its European cousin, the Common Kestrel, as well as the fact that it is a falcon (the smallest and most common in the United States, to be exact) and not a hawk (going by both the New World definition of Buteo and the Old World definition of Accipter).
    • Subverted with the American Goldfinch and other goldfinch species found in the United States — they share a genus, Carduelis, with the European Goldfinch much as the American Robin and Eurasian Blackbird are both in the genus Turdus.
    • New World sparrows are in the family Emberizidae like Old World buntings (and a handful of New World ones like the Snow Bunting) rather than Passeridae as with Old World species. However, some New World emberizids Take a Third Option and are called juncos or towhees. In turn, most New World buntings are actually in the cardinal family, Cardinalidae.
    • This occasionally happens outside the Americas as well. The Dunnock is sometimes referred to as the Hedge Sparrow, but it is not in the family Passeridae as true Old World sparrows such as the House Sparrow (which eventually ended up among the Old World species introduced to North America) are. However, one that stuck was the Java Sparrow, which is actually an estrildid finch (family Estrildidae), though to be fair estrildid finches are fairly close relatives of Old World sparrows, and it's possible that it used to be considered to be a true sparrow but changed families much as how the European Robin changed families. In addition to their relationship with estrildid finches, Old World sparrows are also more closely related to weavers (family Ploceidae) than New World sparrows, and older sources often placed them in the same family (occasionally leading to cases of Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp"), though typically they are considered separate families nowadays.
    • Similarly to the Dunnock, grackles (yet another group of members of the family Icteridae) are often informally referred to as crows in parts of the Americas that do not have true crows. However, American species of true crows, such as the common American Crow, are in the same genus as Old World crows such as the Carrion Crow (the same genus also includes ravens and other species such as the Rook).
    • The now-extinct Great Auk was the original penguin and is a flightless member of the family Alcidae, which also includes extant species such as auklets and puffins. Then this trope was applied to some Southern Hemisphere birds that resembled it but aren't close relatives of the auk family and the rest is history.
    • Some types of waxbills got labeled as finches.
    • In Liberia, the Cattle Egret is often called a Cowbird. The American birds known as cowbirds are even more examples of members of the family Icteridae and look absolutely nothing like the Cattle Egret (which is in the heron family). Of course, they are birds often seen around cows, so...
    • Turkeys:
      • The English word for "turkey" derives from the country of the same name—the name comes from the early modern English tendency to give anything from the New World a name with an "exotic" connotation, no matter where the animal came from. These American birds were thus called "Turkey fowl" and eventually just "turkeys," since Turkey was seen to be as exotic as the Americas.
      • The French word for "turkey", dinde, comes from poulet d'Inde, "Indian chicken". They just kept the naming convention developed when the first European explorers to North America were convinced they'd reached the eastern Asian shore. That's why Native Americans are still referred to as "Indians", for instance.
      • Indeed, most languages use some equivalent of either "Turkey fowl" or "India fowl" for turkey; witness Arabic dajaj Rumi ("fowl from Anatolia"—i.e. Turkeynote  and Turkish Hindi ("Indian", a shortening of a longer phrase meaning "Indian fowl").
      • An interesting exception to the "turkeys are named for Turkey or India" trend is Portuguese, in which the birds are called "peru". Apparently, this was because they were introduced to Brazil by Spanish (or at least Spanish-speaking) traders from neighboring Peru in colonial days, and the Portuguese assumed the birds were from there. (In reality, the Spanish had introduced the gobblers to Peru from Mexico relatively recently before they first arrived in Brazil.)
      • Another exception is Chinese, where the term is 火鸡 (pronounced huǒjī in Mandarinnote ), which sidesteps the geographic inaccuracy for a color-based one: it means "fire chicken." Supposedly this is from the color of their plumage, but how they got fire color from (generally brown, hardly ever red, orange, or yellow) turkey feathers is anybody's guess.
    • Similar to turkeys, the Muscovy duck (also native to the Americas) may have gotten its name because the Americas were seen as being as exotic as Russia.
    • In the Old World, screech owl is another name for the Barn Owl, which is the most widespread member of the family Tytonidae, which is sometimes called the barn owl family. However, in the New World, screech owl refers to members of the genus Megascops, which tend to be much smaller than a Barn Owl (the common Eastern and Western Screech Owls are both no bigger than an adult's fist, while the Barn Owl is much larger than they are) and are also in the family Strigidae like most other owls (and is also the family of all owls found in the United States except for the aforementioned Barn Owl).
  • Speaking of turkeys, in spanish, peacocks are referred as "Pavo Real" (Royal Turkey) an animal which they don't resemble much apart of both being birds.
  • Originally, "fish" meant "any water animal", and any animal that lived in the water was fair game to be called a "fish" (for example, jellyfish, starfish, etc.). Then, when scientists better understood these creatures, they decided that "fish" should refer only to certain gilled, finned vertebrates. Much hilarity ensued.
    • The cuttlefish is not a fish but a cephalopod (the same class that octopodes and squids belong to).
    • "Walrus" is derived from the Norse name, which translates as "horse-whale"
    • Similarly, "Porpoise" means "pig fish"
    • Some Roman texts referred to crocodiles as "Egyptian fish"
    • The Sandfish lizard is possibly the only thing called a fish that doesn't live in the water. It got its name because it moves through loose sand similarly to how a fish moves through water. (Sadly, it has very little resemblance to the Land Shark trope.)
    • As an aside, the thinking that anything that lived in water was a "fish" proved to be a convenient loophole during Lent. You couldn't eat chicken—but you could eat beavers. Some populations of turtles have even been endangered or wiped out by demand driven by this thinking. On the other hand, some South American people (South American natives ate capybaras and caimans, but not fish) are only alive because of it.
  • In a strange double-take on this trope, the Patagonian Toothfish is a sort of bass. It is also extremely tasty and served in the finest restaurants, but as a "Toothfish" sounds as tasty as deep fried molars tempura, the fish is instead sold as Chilean Sea Bass. The fish is in so high demand many fear it may wind up driven to near extinction through overfishing.
    • "Sea bass" can get even more complicated in the United States where restaurants and places selling fish have an approved list of species that can legally be sold as "sea bass". All several dozen of them, some in entirely different families. The sea bass served at one restaurant might be as closely related to the sea bass served at another restaurant as a cow is to a giraffe, hippopotamus, or a whale.
  • The Hippopotamus has received the same treatment that sea animals have. Its name is actually Greek for river horse. This extends to other languages as well: in Dutch and German, it's called Nijlpaard and Nilpferd respectively, both of which mean "Nile horse." In Hebrew; it's Soos Ye'Or, also meaning Nile Horse (Soos: Horse, Ye'Or: Biblical name of the Nile), although the word hipopotam seems to be much more common. It extends to Mandarin Chinese as well, with the term for hippopotamus being "河马" (hémǎ), literally river-horse.
  • Electric eels aren't even true eels, they are members of a group of electrical fish that includes the knife fish and the ghost fish.
  • Insects get their share of this, too:
    • "Bug" actually means "creepy-crawly", it's related to "bugaboo" and possibly to the Slavic words for "god" (gods can be scary); it can be applied not only to insects but to any arthropod (lobsters and crawfish, both, are sometimes called "mudbugs", and they're crustaceans, as are pillbugs). Scientists restrict "bug" to mean insects of the order Hemiptera, but technical jargon is not normative for common speech, any more than the grammar of Latin is normative for English.
    • Fireflies aren't actually flies, but beetles. The German name for them, Glühwürmchen, isn't better. It means "glowing worms".
      • "Glowworm" is a common name for the larval form of many species of fireflies in English as well. The ladybug is more properly known in entomological circles as the ladybird beetle—from "ladybird," which is the older term (ladybug is the Americanized variety). They got their name from the Lady, as in the Virgin Mary, because she used to be portrayed wearing a scarlet cloak, and the spots—which, in the species historically most common in Europe, always number seven—are said to represent her seven joys and seven sorrows). Other language names for the ladybug/ladybeetle/ladybird make the connection more obvious: in German they're called Marienkäfer (Mary-beetle). It's even weirder in Hebrew: Coming from an earlier Yiddish name (and earlier than that, various Central European nicknames) they are called Parot Moshe Rabenu after the Prophet Moses - lit. "Our Master Moses' Cows". Another common Yiddish name for them was "Moses' Horses".
    • Several dialects of French, notably Cajun, call ladybugs "vaches du Bon Dieu", "the Good Lord's cows." Similarly mantises are "chevaux de diable", "the devil's horses".
    • In Polish the ladybug's official name is biedronka, but in some regions it's still called Boża krówka ("the Lord's cow"), especially by elderly people. Even in areas where it's called biedronka, there's a strong religious connotation, and there is even a nursery rhyme which goes: "Biedroneczko, leć do Nieba, przynieś mi kawałek chleba" ("Ladybug, fly to Heaven and bring me some bread") - it's usually spoken by little kids who set free a ladybug they've caught.
    • In Russian, a ladybug is also "the Lord's cow" (Bozhya Korovka), and an analogue of the above rhyme exists.
    • In Danish they're called Mariehøner which is Mary-hen.
    • Camel spiders and wind scorpions are neither spiders nor scorpions. (They're Eldritch Abominations.) Actually, they're "solifugids", a unique group of arthropods that somehow got labeled with the names of more common arachnids.
    • Bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata} are more closely related to yellow jackets (Vespula species) than to old-world or true hornets (Vespa spp.). Yellow jackets, especially the queens, are also often called "ground hornets".
  • This just doesn't happen to animals, but to plants as well. Just as "fish" used to mean "anything that lives in the sea," "apple" used to be a generic term for any fruit.
    • Tomatoes suffer from quite a bit of disassociative categorizing. Botanically, they are fruits, but culinarily they are considered vegetables (and thus everyone assumes they are veggies). This has led to some legal hilarity; the Supreme Court of the United States, during the 1893 case Nix v. Hedden, decided that tomatoes should be classified as vegetables under customs regulations; the court unanimously agreed that the Tariff Act of 1883 used common, not botanical, meanings for "fruit" and "vegetable." The case has been cited as precedent for defining tomatoes as vegetables ever since, which is why it's the official state vegetable of several American states.
      • A lot of what we eat as vegetables are botanically fruit, including peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. (If you remove seeds to prepare it, it's a fruit.)
    • Tomatoes were once called "love apples". The French name for them, pomme d'amour, is thought to be a corruption either of pomi di Mori (Moor's apple) or pomodoro, the later because the first tomatoes to hit Europe may have been orange in color.
    • Potatoes have been likened to apples in several languages. The textbook French name for the potato is pomme de terre—"apple of (the) earth", although patate is also used. The Dutch call them Aardappel, which literally translates to "Earth Apple." The Hebrew name for potatoes, Tapu'Akh Adama, also means "apple of (the) earth" (Tapu'Akh = Apple, Adama = Earth/Soil). This is also true for the German word Erdapfel, although Kartoffel is far more common—but the German term for French fries is the French loanword Pommes Frites, literally meaning "fried apples."
    • The French also have the "patate douce" (sweet potato). Sometimes, some French say only the "patate douce" can be called patate. Nobody ever agrees.
    • It gets more complicated: In America, at least, the "sweet potato" (I. batatas) is also called a "yam". The problem is that a yam is a completely different vegetable (Dioscorea spp.) that 'resembles' the sweet potato only in that it is an edible root; sweet potatoes are generally about six inches long, thin-skinned, and related to morning glories. Yams are tough-skinned, up to 8 feet long, can weigh 100+ pounds, and are related to lianas (those things Tarzan swung on). The sweet potato is also a common term for the ocarina, which is a musical instrument and not edible (except in the context of some P.D.Q. Bach works).
    • Presumably the sweet potato (New World) being called a yam (Old World) is because most agricultural workers in (Anglophone) America were African slaves, who applied this trope to the local root vegetables (yams are a major staple crop in much of Africa, including many places the slaves came from).
    • Another Hebrew take on the apple is the "golden apple", i.e. the orange ("Tapuz", which is an abbreviation for "Tapuach Zahav"). It's a fairly recent addition to the language, and this fruit apparently had no previous Hebrew name whatsoever (foreign names were used).
    • Some languages (Dutch, and from it, Russian; used to be the case in French) call the orange "Chinese apple".
    • That said, Norwegian dialects use to differ between the "earth apple" (the Potato) and the "sweet apple" (the regular apple). This lexical use came about years before the sweet potato arrived in Norway.
    • The English word "corn" used to refer to any grain, such as wheat or barley. When English speakers reached the New World and first saw the yellow grain that grows on a cob, they called it "maize", based on a native name for it, but at some point started calling it "sweet corn" instead. North American Anglophones, however, called it "Indian corn", then shortened this to "corn"; "sweet corn" refers only to certain varieties. The rest of the world still calls it "maize".
    • The confusion between different meanings of the word "corn" leads to much hilarity when those unfamiliar with it translate English literature into, say, Korean. Fields of maize appear in medieval England and children become unreasonably tall.
    • This is also true to French-speaking North Americans (especially French Canadians) - though "maïs" (French for "maize") is generally understood, French Canadians generally refer to it as "blé d'inde", wheat from India (or, "Indian Corn").
    • Grapefruits are a citrus fruit, not an actual grape. They got their name because they grow in clusters, which look like bunches of grapes—but "grapefruit" isn't their original name. They were originally known as "shaddock" or "shattuck" until the 19th century.
    • Shaddock is also a name for the pummelo, the grapefruit's larger cousin.
    • The word "pineapple" was originally a word for what we now call a pine cone. Pine trees are not related to apple trees. The word was then applied to the fruit now known by that name, since it resembled a pine cone. Pineapple plants are not related to pine trees. Finally, the word "pineapple" for a pine cone fell out of use, being used exclusively for the fruit. Pineapple plants aren't related to apple trees, either.
    • Kiwifruit used to be called "Chinese gooseberries." They were deliberately renamed to "kiwifruit" for marketing reasons, since they resembled the eponymous flightless bird — well, insofar as both are small, brown, off-round, and furry-looking.
    • Kiwifruit itself in Chinese is usually given a weird assortment of names, currently being known as a Macaque Peach, despite the fruit looking nothing like a peach (or a macaque!). It's also called a pear in some versions
    • Along the same lines, the cape gooseberry is not related to actual gooseberries, or any other plant (such as the kiwifruit) that is sometimes referred to as a gooseberry. They're also sometimes called "ground cherries," due to their sweetness and tart undertones, but they're also not related to any variety of cherry. They're actually closely related to tomatillos and tomatoes.
    • Neither water hemlock nor poison hemlock (both "hemlocks" are poisonous) are related to hemlock trees (nor very closely to each other).
    • The name "oregano" has been given to several different species on the basis of similar flavor and aroma; e.g., Mexican oregano and Cuban oregano are completely different plants. Also, true oregano and majoram get mixed up in several languages, with either being named after the other.
    • "Lemon aspen" is a form of Australian "bush food" tree that produces small, slightly acidic, slightly lemony fruit. It is not actually a kind of aspen (aspens are in the willow family)—but in an odd zig-zag, it is fairly closely related to actual lemons (both being in the rue family).
    • Peppercorn and chili peppers look nothing alike, but Columbus still chose to name the chili "pepper" because they were spicy like the fruit of the black pepper plant.
    • The Osage orange or "hedge apple" is neither an orange nor an apple. It's a member of the mulberry family, and it's not even edible. The "orange" term comes from the resemblance of the fruit to a green, lumpy orange (and the "Osage" part comes from that being one of the Native American tribes in the area the fruit is native to, and their use of the wood.) As for "hedge apple," well, the plant (with its thorny branches) was used for making hedges, and the term "apple" is (as mentioned further above) sometimes applied to fruits and other plant parts that have nothing to do with apples and aren't even botanically related.
    • Juniper "berries" aren't actually berries. They're cones, like pinecones or spruce cones or fir cones. (They just happen to be more fleshy than woody.)
    • The fruit of the Opuntia cactus is sometimes referred to as "prickly pear." It's not a pear, or even related to pears, it just kinda looks like one.
    • Sichuan peppercorns aren't actually peppercorns, which are the fruit of the plant known as Piper nigrum. Sichuan peppercorns are the fruit of the prickly ash tree. (Zanthoxylum spp.) And they're more closely related to citrus trees than pepper.
      • Similarly, pink peppercorns aren't actually peppercorns either, but the fruits of a plant known as Schinus molle, or the Peruvian peppertree. They're more closely related to cashews than pepper.
  • Even viruses get this treatment. The illness that is sometimes known as "the stomach flu" or "the 24-hour flu" is not even remotely the same virus as the one you get immunized against every year. The stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, affects the stomach and digestive tract. The flu, or influenza, is an upper respiratory infection.
    • In 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, many Americans referred to the virus and disease as "Chinese flu" or some other permutation that includes the word "flu" and some reference to China. COVID-19 is not caused by an influenza virus but a virus related to those that typically cause the common cold. Averted by this same name though in that the first major outbreak of the virus occurred in a Wuhan open-air market (which American politicians tried to capitalize on to drive anti-China sentiment).
  • Nutrias (or coypus, or "South American swamp beavers") are neither rats nor beavers, they are in their own separate family, albeit in the Rodentia order. Muskrats and water rats aren't true rats either.
    • "Rat" and "mouse" are terms erroneously applied to dozens if not hundreds of species of non-murid rodent, from packrats and mole rats (two for one, as they're not moles either!) to dormice and kangaroo mice.
      • "Dormouse" originates as a misspelling or folk etymology of the original "dormeous", as in "sleeps a lot".
      • Hence why the Dormouse Alice meets is constantly sleeping.
    • Bear in mind that the South America "nutria" is a rodent, but it was named by the Spanish after the Eurasian otter—a carnivoran of the family Mustelidae (the weasel family), and thus no more closely related to the nutria than a giraffe.note 
  • The trees of the Pacific Coast called cedars (genera Thuja, Chamaecyparis, Calocedrus, etc.) are not related to the true cedars (genus Cedrus), which are native to the Mediterranean and Himalayan regions, although three of these species have been cultivated in America. The only things in common are that they both are conifers with aromatic wood.
    • What's called pine nuts in English is called cedar nuts in Russian, and the pines producing them are called cedar pines or simply cedars. The species most commonly called that is the Siberian Pine, which obviously doesn't tend to grow in the Mediterranean.
  • Do a web search for a picture of a Sea Hare and decide for yourself if it looks anything like a relative of the bunny rabbit.
  • Similarly, Sea Butterflies, also known as Cliones, are not insects at all but a type of slug. They're also referred to as Marine Angels, but given how bizarre some of the angels described in The Bible were this is understandable.
  • After horses died out in the Americas, Native Americans often made use of this trope when Europeans came in riding the beasts thousands of years later:
    • The Navajo, Wiyot, Sahaptin, Arikara, Cree, Sioux, Pawnee, Meskwaki, and Blackfeet used variations of "dog".
    • The Aztecs, Choctaw, and Creek used variations of "deer".
    • The Cheyenne and Shawnee used variations of "elk".
    • After conquering the Aztecs, Cortés made a (friendly) stop in the Mayan city of Noh-Petén/Tayasal while on a expedition to Honduras, where he left a horse that had been injured and couldn't keep the march. A century later, two missionaries visited the city and found that the natives worshiped an unmistakable statue of a horse they named "the fulgurant tapir".
    • A double example happens in the 1570 Inca account of the conquest of Peru by Titu Cusi Yupanqui, who says that when the Incas first saw horses they thought of them as "large sheep in silver shoes". By "sheep" he meant llamas, who had been called "Peruvian sheep" by the Spanish (the account was written in Spanish because the Incas didn't have an alphabet).
  • The Dutch language has many examples of these:
    • A seal is called a "zeehond" (literally: "sea dog").
    • A lamantine is called a "zeekoe" (literally: "sea cow")
    • A hippopotamus is called a "nijlpaard" (literally: "Nile horse")
    • A whale is called a "walvis", despite not being a fish at all.
    • A harbour porpoise is called a "bruinvis" (literally: "brown fish"), despite not being a fish, nor always "brown".
  • Catfish, dogfish, sea lions, and sea cows.
    • Many things under the sea with similar names as it was once thought that every land animal had a sea equivalent. Usually the names were just shoehorned to an animal.
    • Sea cows got the name cows because they almost exclusively eat sea grass and do so in a slow grazing fashion, much like a cow, and generally have a fairly pleasant and friendly nature due to the lack of any possible environmental threat until the invention of the motorboat.
  • When Sea Monkeys were being marketed, the packages showed illustrations of little humanoid seafolk frolicking in their own miniature undersea kingdom which you can hatch from the eggs that the package came with. For those who have never kept Sea Monkeys, this is what they look like. This was actually a plot point in one of the episodes of South Park where Cartman buys a package of "Sea People" (a parody on Sea Monkeys) expecting to hatch a colony of merpeople who will take him away from "this crappy god damn planet full of hippies". He's enraged when they hatch and are nothing more than brine shrimp.
  • The Manhattan project hid the names of the elements it was working with under mundane code names: uranium-235 was "magnesium," neptunium was "silver" and plutonium was "copper." When it eventually became necessary to use real copper, the scientists had to refer to it as "honest-to-God-copper."
  • Tardigrades are also known as water bears or moss piglets. They are neither bears nor swine, but rather aquatic eight-legged micro-organisms.
  • The French word for the shrew is "musaraigne", literally meaning mouse-spider. They are neither (though shrews at least look like mice, but they aren't rodents). The likening to spiders came from the fact that some shrews are venomous.
  • The correct group name for any Great Ape is a Troop. Unless you ask an American what a group of Baboons are called, who will likely respond with a Congress.
  • There is a theory that the name Spain is derived from the Phoenician words for "Island of the hyraxes". However, hyraxes don't live in Spain; rabbits do, which look somewhat similar from a distance. The same confusion is present in modern Hebrew as well.
  • Horned lizards (genus Phrynosoma) are colloquially called "horny toads" due to their blunt faces and squat, round bodies.
  • The box jellyfish species Chironex fleckeri is often called the sea wasp, not because it looks like a wasp, but because of its venomous sting. The venom in question is way more potent than an actual wasp's venom, though. In fact, the sea wasp is considered one of the most venomous critters on the planet.
  • The manchineel tree derives its name from the Spanish name "manzanilla del muerte", or "little apple of death". However, while the fruit bears some resemblance to apples, the tree in question is actually more closely related to violets than apples. Also, unlike apples, every single part of the manchineel is deadly to humans, and the only reason any are still around is that no-one has managed to figure out a way to burn manchineel wood without turning their lungs to blister-filled messes from inhaling the equally toxic smoke.


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