Everyday Things That Aren’t Called What You Think


Few things are more embarrassing than realizing you don’t know the name of a coworker or an acquaintance and have been calling them the wrong thing. It’s an innocent enough mistake, but it makes you feel a little silly when it happens. Turns out it’s a very common mistake people make, and it’s not just with the names of other humans. We learn the wrong names of things all the time. 

10. Most Gargoyles are Actually Grotesques

Though we most commonly associate gargoyles with gothic architecture, they were very common across Europe over the past several centuries and actually date all the way back to Greece. The Acropolis in Athens has lion gargoyles from the 4th century BC. They are still going strong even today and if you head to the National Cathedral in Washington, you can even find a Darth Vader gargoyle. Or, more properly, a grotesque.

In the modern world, we have a bad habit of calling every grisly monster carved into the side of a cathedral a gargoyle. Disney had a popular cartoon about them back in the day, but not a single one of those creatures, or the Darth Vader we mentioned earlier, are actually gargoyles. They are grotesques, and they are two distinct things. 

For a gargoyle to be a gargoyle, it needs to have a specific function. They’re built with water spouts through their mouths that help drain rainwater away from the building. On the other hand, a grotesque is not a waterspout, and it’s mostly meant for decorative or, if you’re superstitious, protective purposes to ward off evil spirits.

9. Solitaire is Actually Called Klondike

Solitaire is a game nearly everyone knows thanks to Microsoft, as it was packaged with the earliest home computers, so most people grew up with access to it. Because Microsoft opted to call the game Solitaire, we’re all used to calling it that. The fact is Solitaire is less a particular game than a particular style of game. The game Microsoft taught us all was Klondike Solitaire. In the UK you might see it called Patience. There are literally hundreds of other Solitaire games out there. Basically, if you can play it by yourself, it’s Solitaire. That’s the only actual rule. 

The first Solitaire game on record dates back to 1746 and at the time, it was referring to a game meant for one that was played with pegs and marbles. Clearly there are a lot of potential variations, but as long as only one solitary person plays, it counts. 

8. Chilean Sea Bass is Actually Patagonian Toothfish

If you watch enough cooking shows on TV, you’ll see Chilean sea bass pop up all the time. It’s the go-to fish for fancy dinners and it sounds kind of luxurious, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the point. They had to come up with a sexy name for it because Chilean sea bass used to have another name that sounded kind of awful. It’s Patagonian Toothfish.

The Patagonian part isn’t so bad, but it doesn’t flow like “Chilean” does. But Toothfish sounds ugly, there’s no way around it. The name was changed simply because vendors felt it would sound more appealing to buyers. It’s all marketing. 

The name change dates back to 1977, and it’s a deep sea fish that had been barely known before modern fishing practices. Because of the fast and loose rules with the fake name, when you buy Chilean sea bass you may be getting Patagonian Toothfish or Antarctic Toothfish. Also, the practices of harvesting these fish fish are very damaging to the environment, so you might want to leave them off the menu, anyway.

7. In America, a Penny is a One Cent Piece

“See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck” is a saying you may have heard if you’re old and still remember pennies. Coins and paper money are slowly fading from the world in favor of electronic commerce, but the penny had a good run. The first penny was introduced back in 790 AD. That’s a heck of a history. 

In modern times, and in particular America, arguably the most interesting thing about the penny is that they don’t exist. The American one cent piece is the proper name of the coin and “penny” is more of a colloquial term since, as we saw, the name has been around for well over 1,000 years.

Don’t feel weird if you call it a penny yourself. Nearly everyone does, including the US Mint. Of course, they do stick to their own correct terms elsewhere on their website as well.

6. Fonts are Actually Called Typefaces

If you have ever done any design work on a computer, even something as simple as writing an essay for school, you have taken at least a few minutes to change the font of a headline. Microsoft Word offers hundreds of fonts, as do programs like PhotoShop. You can use the Star Wars font, Harry Potter font, Stranger Things, or just some classic and clean ones that look like newspaper headlines or even calligraphy. There are endless fonts. Also, none of them are fonts.

Font refers specifically to the variations within a specific typeface. That means the height or width of the letters. It does not refer to the change in visible design between sets of letters, the design that makes Star Wars different from Harry Potter. That’s actually the typeface

Most design-minded people already know this. But in the world at large, font and typeface are used interchangeably. This is because most software just calls typefaces fonts. You almost never see the word “typeface” anywhere in a design program. In the future, if you want to be specific, you’re changing font when you make it bold or change the size. You’re changing typeface if you switch from Arial to Times New Roman. 

5. Mexico Isn’t Actually Called Mexico

If you know anything about geography, you probably feel confident you can name a good portion of the countries in the world, though there are 195 of them, so don’t feel bad if you can’t name them all. But if you’re North American, surely you can name all the countries in North America, right? There are only three. Canada, the United States of America, and the United Mexican States. Wait, what?

Contrary to what most people know, Mexico is not the name of Mexico. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and in 1824 adopted its official name, the United Mexican States. So why do people call it Mexico? Because that name is much older. In fact, the Aztec people were once called the Mexica people before the Spanish even thought about crossing the ocean in the Valley of Mexico

Efforts have been made in the past to make the official name Mexico, but so far it’s still officially called Estados Unidos Mexicanos.

4. The Hashtag, AKA Pound Sign, Is Actually an Octothorpe

Few symbols have had such a rollercoaster ride of an existence as what most of Generation Z would identify as the hashtag. It’s ubiquitous, you can find it above the “3” on your keyboard, and was once exclusively called the number sign.

As a number sign, it dates back to the 1850s. As a tic-tac-toe board, it goes back to 1823. As a symbol in general, there are cave drawings attributed to Neanderthals that depict it. It is, after all, a simple arrangement of lines, so it makes sense that it’s been around a while. 

The official name for the symbol is not a hashtag, or number sign, or pound sign, or even a sharp, as it’s used in music. Because it’s all of those things, it kind of makes sense that it has another name. That name is octothorpe. But who named it that? Phone workers. The symbol had been around for ages with no official name, so they called it an octotherp, which then morphed to octothorpe.

3. The Mad Hatter is Never Actually Called That

Arguably the most popular character in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is the Mad Hatter. He was a standout in the story and then became a part of pop culture with his depiction in the Disney film and later the live action version played by Johnny Depp. There’s even a Batman villain called the Mad Hatter. His madness just can’t be stopped. But it’s worth noting that writer Lewis Carroll never actually called him mad.

Carroll called the character the Hatter. Other characters in the book describe him in unfavorable terms, and it’s clear that Carroll was depicting him in that light, but no one calls him that. 

The term “mad as a hatter” predates Carroll’s story and was a reference to an illness suffered by hat makers. Part of the process of making hats involved using mercury in the 18th century. Hat makers were unknowingly exposing themselves to this toxic element and suffering serious physical and mental ailments as a result. So, while Carroll’s hatter was clearly mad – and likely for this reason – no one specifically calls him the Mad Hatter. 

2. Panini is a Plural, the Sandwich is Actually a Panino

In America, if you’re buying a sandwich that’s been pressed in a grill, it’s a panini. You can go to any sandwich shop and buy one right now. You can go to Walmart and buy your own panini press and make them at home. Paninis for everyone!

One thing worth knowing about a panini is that it’s not even a grammatically correct way to use the word. Panini is Italian, and it refers to multiple sandwiches. A single one of these sandwiches is called a panino. So two would be panini. When you go to Subway and ask for two paninis, you’re really off the mark in terms of how to refer to these sandwiches, because you’re essentially trying to asking for two sandwiches.

Also worthy of note is that panini means “small bread roll.” So it’s any sandwich served on an entire, small loaf of bread. It doesn’t even need to be grilled, which is really the sole qualification needed in North America. 

1. Big Ben is Just the Bell, Not the Clocktower

If you’re visiting London as a tourist you probably want to check out all the famous spots like Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, and of course, Big Ben. Turns out that when you visit Big Ben, you’re probably not visiting what you think you are. Big Ben isn’t that clock tower we’ve all seen in pictures and films.

The iconic House of Parliament clock tower was built back in 1834. At the time, it had the very imaginative name of Clock Tower. Then, in 2012, they officially renamed it as Elizabeth Tower. So where does the name Big Ben come in? It’s the bell inside the tower.

Big Ben is a 13-ton bell and its ring is world famous. The name of the bell, the “Ben” part, is actually a subject of debate. Because it’s been called Big Ben for so long, we’re not even sure why it has the name, but there are two theories.

One theory states that the bell was named for Sir Benjamin Hall, a man who oversaw the building’s construction in the first place. The other theory is that it got its nickname from popular boxer Benjamin Caunt.

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