I hope someone can tell me if there is a formal, or technical, English word or phrase that describes the result of summarising a complicated (technical, or obscure, apply equally well here) idea into a much simplified colloquial (but equivalent) phrase?

For example, "too big to fail" is a colloquial label for a technical theory that suggests some firms pose a risk to financial stability by virtue of their very large size, relative to other firms, and their interconnectedness within the economy. To the extent that, letting them fail is potentially more problematic than the possible moral hazard created by using public money to rescue such firms.

Is "too big to fail" described as an abbreviation? I also thought of "sound-bite", but I know that is incorrect, as it does not capture the equivalence of the label and the technical idea it represents.

Not a very good example, I know. English is not my first language, so apologies if this question has an obvious answer.

  • A maxim : a well-known phrase that expresses a general truth about life or a rule about behaviour. An axiom :a generally accepted proposition or principle, sanctioned by experience.
    – user66974
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 21:49
  • 1
    No, that is not an "abbreviation", at least not in the way the term is usually understood. I don't know of a good "catch-all" term for the concept, though.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 21:58
  • 1
    @Josh61 Maxim is much better than abbreviation or sound-bite, thank you. And perhaps it works with that particular example, but I don't think it fits the general process (complicated idea -> colloquial label). Perhaps it is simply a "colloquialism"...and nothing more.
    – Rusan Kax
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 22:04
  • 1
    Perhaps simplification? (Although I like maxim.)
    – dave
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:19

2 Answers 2


If the OP wants a noun, I think it should be "condensation" (of an academic theory into a snappy maxim)

  • Thank you I like this too. Still holding out that there may be a technical term for such a "condensation".
    – Rusan Kax
    Commented Apr 23, 2015 at 23:18

I don't think this is an abbreviation. It's more:

[/to put/to sum up/] in a nutshell

You may consider the above idiom. More on it:

99 Essential Business Idioms and Phrasal Verbs: Succeed in an English ... Zhanna Hamilton

Business Idiom: In a Nutshell Meaning: To summarize


In a nutshell, I am the furthest thing from a disgruntled employee.

To sum up the meeting in a nutshell, we are going to declare bankruptcy next week.

My job, in a nutshell, is to ...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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