Shortened or partial Idioms in common use.
May 22, 2014 12:01 PM   Subscribe

You often hear people say things like "When in Rome" or "Great Minds" when people are generally meaning, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." or "Great minds think alike." Is there an actual literary term for these clipped or shortened idioms?
posted by sevcenko to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The term is anapodoton. See also: wiktionary's English examples of anapodoton.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2014 [20 favorites]

specialagentwebb's term is clearly the precise and scientific one.

They can also be thought of as allusions -- they allude to something without spelling it out. (Of course, words aren't the only way to do that.)

Edward Hirsch, in Cultural Literacy, explains one such allusion as a measure of Cultural Literacy (the title of his book):

"For instance, in my father's commodity business, the timing of sales and purchases was all-important, and he would sometimes write or say to his colleagues, "There is a tide," without further elaboration. Those four words carried not only a lot of complex information, but also the persuasive force of a proverb. In addition to the basic practical meaning, "act now!" what came across was a lot of implicit reasons why immediate action was important.

For some of my younger readers who may not recognize the allusion, the passage from Julius Caesar is:

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; . . .
posted by LonnieK at 12:20 PM on May 22, 2014

Anapodoton is it. Another example is "If wishes were horses", which is the shortened form of "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
posted by trip and a half at 6:16 PM on May 22, 2014

You can lead a horse to water.
posted by the jam at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2014

If anapodoton proves too mouthful to pronounce or embarrassingly snobbish to say out loud, I think ellipsis would be a viable and legitimate alternative—though its focus is more on the omitted part of the sentence than the remaining, I guess.
posted by procrastinator at 9:44 AM on May 23, 2014

« Older Ontario Resident that got speeding ticket in NY...   |   Projector for painting: advice wanted Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.