Learn English – A word that means “lacking meaning/context because displaced” (besides “anachronistic”)


If something is out of place in time, we call it anachronistic. I want a word that means something lacks meaning or context because of geographic or conceptual displacement rather than chronological displacement.

Searches on websites like Stack Exchange have suggested:

  • anomalous
  • incongruous
  • unmeaning
  • uncromulent

Anomalous and incongruous seem wrong to me because they imply something is abnormal. I want to say something is done whose meaning is lost or unknown because of displaced context without implying it is abnormal.

I'm not sure about "unmeaning" or "uncromulent". Anyone have other suggestions? Or can you suggest a neologism formed from a- or an- !


I should have given an example…

Imagine you go into the home of someone who only speaks English and has a strong penchant for interior decorating. The person has placed a Chinese language cookbook in their kitchen to decorate the kitchen. The cookbook is not truly out of place because it is where it is supposed to be. However, its original purpose has been lost by being removed from the context of Chinese language speakers. This is the kind of situation I am trying find a word for.

My actual use would be describing Xmas decorations in Asia, but I don't want to get sidetracked by the accusation I am suggesting Asians can't put up Xmas decorations. That is NOT what I'm suggesting, just that the decoration's original or intrinsic meaning is lost when nobody knows anything about Xmas.

I think perhaps "anachorism" is closest, although the thing is not really in an incorrect place.

I tried to come up with some neologisms by combining ana- with Greek words meaning "understandable" or "dwelling place" but nothing really sounded good.

I did find another word "enchorial", but unenchorial would mean non-native, and focus on the place rather than the object. I don't want to say the objects don't belong here but that this place doesn't make sense of the objects.

Best Answer

Although not found in the online Merriam-Webster or Oxford dictionaries, one word is anachorism:

[Collins Dictionary]

a geographical misplacement; something located in an incongruous position

Another word is anatopism.


n. A thing that is out of its proper place; the geographic counterpart to anachronism.

It's also not found in the public Merriam-Webster or Oxford dictionaries. Although it seems the OED does list it, I don't have access to that.

As a second-hand citation, an archived entry of a post to alt.languages.english recorded at the Narkive Newsgroup Archive shows this is what is (or was) in the online OED:

A putting of a thing out of its proper place, a faulty arrangement. 1812 COLERIDGE Rem. I. 317 In arranging which [books] the puzzled librarian must ommit an anachronism in order to avoid an anatopism.
1850 DE QUINCEY Wks. XVI. 72 Geographical blunders, or what might be called anatopisms.