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".

  • I think it's called an oddlywordedquestionneedingbetter .
    – Martin F
    Jan 16, 2014 at 6:19
  • A common example is "STOP USING ALL CAPS!" Jan 16, 2014 at 6:54
  • There's also "onomatopoeia", when a word phonetically sounds like what it describes. Such as "oink", "meow" or "quack". Jan 17, 2014 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


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".

  • Thank you, this was very thorough. Autological and iconicity come closest to what I wanted. Jan 16, 2014 at 16:20
  • I believe that "self-reflexive" is sometimes used in philosophy to describe this characteristic.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 6, 2015 at 21:01


possessing the property it describes.
(definition from wiktionary)

Although it is usually used to describe words, it can also apply to phrases or sentences.

(This related question may also add some color.)

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