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The five of us never left our cells. That is, everybody but me snuck out.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

Pretending that a word means something it does not; not in an attempt to help a language evolve, but in a Last Stand defending your words and your honor!

Say you're trying to convince people on a message board that a politician you don't like is a fascist (this could apply to just about any major political party). They aren't buying it. Well, the dictionary is irrefutable, so you look up fascism.

Damn it! This politician's views don't fit the definition of fascism at all!

Wait... That's just their definition of fascism, not yours. Of course, it's the label of fascism that is bad, and not the actual definition, so you just make the label apply and make everyone believe you. And maybe if you do it for long enough, it will catch on and they'll fix the dictionary!

Ways to do this are:

  1. Stretch the definition to make it apply.
  2. Use loose connections or associations.
  3. Selectively use just one part or application of the definition.
  4. Exclude any examples that don't fit your meaning.
  5. Draw a specious connection to something from the word's etymology.
  6. Just make something up.

Naturally, making this one’s main argument is among the dirtiest of social tricks, since it all but forces your interlocutor to accept your strawman if they want to converse with you at all.

That said, Tropes Are Tools still applies, and the dictionary meaning of words can and do change over time — many dictionaries now include some variation on "derogatory term for a disliked politician/political group seen as dictatorial" as one definition of fascism, for instance. (Dictionaries, we should remember, simply record the ways words are commonly used, not necessarily the ways any prescriptivist groups think they "should" be used.) Attempting to create a new meaning by yourself, however, is a good way to prove you have Delusions of Eloquence.

Compare Malaproper, Newspeak, Implausible Deniability, Chewbacca Defense, No True Scotsman, Metaphorically True, and Unusual Euphemism. Not to be confused with Neologism which is making up words to add to current dictionaries. Twisting the Words is when someone applies this trope to a word someone else used, and Separated by a Common Language and Did Not Do the Bloody Research is when they are using the word correctly — with a different dictionary.

Contrast Accidental Innuendo, and Unfortunate Implications when someone uses a word strictly by the dictionary definition ignoring important colloquial meanings, Jive Turkey and Totally Radical for when dictionaries finally catch up with past vernacular a few years late, Have a Gay Old Time and Hilarity Ensues when the alternate slang meaning becomes the primary meaning, and Get Thee to a Nunnery occurs when a slang meaning is lost to time.

The antithesis of this trope is when someone observes, "You Keep Using That Word..."

When someone literally makes up an actual dictionary for their personal amusement or art, that's Conlang or Perfectly Cromulent Word.

See also: Artistic License – Linguistics.

In-Universe Examples Only:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • ∀ Gundam: As Dianna drily notes, 'people with violent tendencies' dovetails pretty much exactly with 'people I don't like'.

    Comic Books 
  • The Redeemer: According to the Redeemer, "decimation" involves sparing one man out of tennote , leaving him in a pillory so he can spread word of the Redeemer's "forgiveness".

  • Deconstructed in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, where a few chapters, labeled "A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words," center around different connotations and meanings certain words have to certain characters, and how these slightly different meanings lead to relationship problems.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a rare example of using personal dictionaries in a way other than as a logical fallacy, there's an episode of Friends in which Monica gets angry at Chandler for describing their relationship as "just goofing around" and he placates the argument by saying what that means in his dictionary.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Voices of Authority", Political Officer Julie Musante claims that Earth has no problems with homelessness, unemployment, crime, or prejudice:
    Sheridan: And when, exactly, did all this happen?
    Musante: When we rewrote the dictionary.

  • BIONICLE: Farshtey used "universe" to mean the Matoran world, not the entire cosmos, as from the Matoran perspective that is their universe and they are aware of very little outside it.

    Video Games 
  • Another Eden: Benedict often mentions being a normal lumberjack. The only thing he knows about lumberjacks is that they're normal and carry around an ax.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia: When Cecil asks if Kain has the Light, Mog's reply is that "if he's using his powers for good, then yes." This is much different from his earlier statements, in which he claimed to sense the Light from a pure heart in the area before the party actually caught up to the new person.


    Web Video 
  • Folding Ideas: In "This Is Financial Advice", Dan Olson points out the excessive slang thrown around in the ape community (as in, meme stock buyers), and draws special attention to their usage of the word "shill." Apes use it to refer to naysayers who tell them to maybe consider cashing out before the going gets tough, despite the fact that in most other circumstances, a shill means a person who tries to convince other people to buy into a scheme, especially if they stand to make money off those people buying in—in short, the thing apes are defined by doing.
  • Rose of Versailles Abridged: The Duke of Orleans, aka Light Guitar Hero, insists that Oscar is a whore, no matter how much others point out she doesn't fit the definition of a prostitute.

    Western Animation 
  • The Secret Show: The UZZ agents Victor brings along consider themselves vegetarians despite eating fish. Victor calls them out on this.