Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is there a word (or phrase) for phrases that are examples of what they describe? For example, "You the verb" to tell someone they forgot a verb in an online posting, or "spacesmakethingseasiertoread".

share|improve this question
    
I think it's called an oddlywordedquestionneedingbetter . –  martin f Jan 16 at 6:19
    
A common example is "STOP USING ALL CAPS!" –  Codie CodeMonkey Jan 16 at 6:54
    
There's also "onomatopoeia", when a word phonetically sounds like what it describes. Such as "oink", "meow" or "quack". –  Elliott Frisch Jan 17 at 21:13

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The most common, and most commonly understood, term is self-reference, or self-referential if you're after an adjective.

A subset of that is autograms, "sentences that describe themselves in the sense of providing an inventory of their own characters". Examples are "This sentence has exactly six words" or "This sentence employs seven e's".

For single words rather than phrases, there's also the term autological. Textbook examples of this include "polysyllabic", "pentasyllabic", "short", "sesquipedalian", and "noun".

Lastly, there's the term iconicity that generally describes "the conceived similarity or analogy between the form of a sign (linguistic or otherwise) and its meaning". Examples include the word "bed", which some might note looks like a bed, or "looooong", made very long on purpose. Some poets, notably e e cummings, make deliberate use of visual iconicity, though auditory iconicity is more common (think onomatopoeias). Wikipedia provides this nice example of spatial iconicity:

For instance, in Cummings' grasshopper poem ("r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r") the word arriving begins on the far right of the poem with the "a," the "r" is near the middle of the poem, and the rest of the word is on the left of the poem. The reader must travel a great distance across the poem, therefore, in order to "arrive".

share|improve this answer
    
Thank you, this was very thorough. Autological and iconicity come closest to what I wanted. –  wingedsubmariner Jan 16 at 16:20

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.