Depeche Mode's song, "I Promise You I Will," contains the following lines:

I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say

(I promise you)

I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be

The third line, I assume, is intentionally poorly-worded to exemplify the artist's failure to speak eloquently; his awkwardly-worded sentence obviously does not "sound the way [he] planned" it to sound.

For general English usage, is there a word that describes this type of literary device, in which a word or phrase is descriptive and/or exemplary of itself?

The closest term I can think of is onomatopoeia, but it only applies to individual words, not phrases, sentences, or even entire bodies of meta-writing.

  • 3
    They're performative verbs/statements - when you say [something] you do the action the word[s] describe. Sep 21, 2015 at 13:40
  • 3
    Maybe you're thinking of self-referential? E.g. terse is a word that can refer to itself.
    – Barmar
    Sep 21, 2015 at 16:12
  • If the canon and I were one and the same, I'd call it "a turn of phrase."
    – stevesliva
    Dec 6, 2015 at 6:26

3 Answers 3


A word or phrase that "expresses a property that it also possesses" is called autological, homological, or autonymic (here).

A canonical example is the word 'polysyllabic', which both expresses the property of being polysyllabic and also is polysyllabic.

There is nothing barring the application of the concept to phrases and whole sentences.


Self-descriptive, because it's immediately obvious what that means. As a side note, "self-descriptive" is self-descriptive. Note that it's not a real word, sadly.

Self-referential and performative might work, as suggested in the comments, but neither is really accurate.

  • I would up-vote your answer if you shortened it to "I think the best word is "self-descriptive," because it is immediately obvious what that means." :-) Dec 16, 2015 at 16:19
  • @MarkHubbard I kept in the other words because IMO closely related words are useful too.
    – Nic
    Dec 16, 2015 at 17:41

We may use the words 'SELF-EVIDENT' or 'AXIOMATICAL' which mean obviously true and requiring no proof, argument or explanation that is to say SELF-EXPLANATORY.

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