Explicit means clearly stated. Classified means assigned to a class. Graphic means pictorial.
But these words have second meanings (respectively: offensive, secret, depicting something violent). Can these be regarded as some form of abbreviated meaning/phrase? How are they named, if so? What are other examples?

Like "sexually explicit", "classified as top secret" (or other such designation) and "graphic violence" got abbreviated?

  • Great question although I'm not entirely agreeing with your second meanings... Aren't the 'second' meanings: Of 'classified' - restricted access; of 'graphic' - excessive and shocking; and of 'explicit' - pornographically sexual?
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 22:08
  • Aren't they at least related to euphemisms?
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 22:14
  • The words are not euphemisms, but are "nicknames", as it were, of longer phrases which are "clinical descriptions", to pull a term out of the air. They only have the secondary meanings because of their associations with the longer phrases.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 23:27
  • @Dan - The applicable definition of graphic is "vividly realistic" (MW). And, of course, classified means having a classification, while explicit means "fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication, or ambiguity" (MW).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 23:34
  • @HotLicks This phenomenon happens in other languages as well. Consider Polish "element" which besides the obvious meaning can describe (uncountable) hooligans, contracted from communist propaganda buzzword "element przestępczy" - "criminal element [of the society]".
    – Michał B.
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


The way these meanings got attached to the words is speakers using shorthand and listeners making assumptions based on past experience.

So people said “[sexually] explicit” enough times that the word explicit gained the additional meaning “[sexually] explicit.” Same with your other examples.

However, keep in mind that when you say “graphic [violence]” I hear “graphic” because I sometimes work as a graphic artist. Context matters.


There are times when we'd rather not say precisely what we mean/know (e.g. detailed descriptions of illness and accident). At such times we can use euphemisms - figures of speech which consist in the substitution of a word or expression of comparatively favourable implication or less unpleasant associations, instead of the harsher or more offensive one that would more precisely designate what is intended (OED).

The 'second meanings' of 'explicit', 'classified' and 'graphic' would seem to me, at least some of the time, to be euphemisms. Notice that when they are used euphemistically their meaning is different to their usual, dictionary definition:

Would that movie be OK for the kids ? Hmm, I don't think so it was a rom-com and some of the scenes were pretty explicit. (i.e. too much sex)

(Mates chatting) So, how often have you been pulled over for speeding? Sorry, that information's classified. (i.e. none of your business)

He described the accident, graphically. (i.e. in shocking and excessive detail)

  • Except that that use of graphic is not euphemistic. You're just assuming the wrong meaning.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 14:20
  • @HotLicks - I think I'd argue that the more recent definition of 'graphic' - providing or conveying full, unexpurgated detail; expressly stated or represented; explicit, esp. in the depiction of sex or violence (OED), is a use that was, originally, euphemistic but has become standard. 'Graphic' did not start out as a word with this meaning.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 23:19

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