I need a new word or, even better, an old word that I don't know. This gets terribly meta (in a Hofstadter sense) and recursive, so I hope that this makes sense.

The word I need is one that describes a word that embodies a concept. So, for example, a mouse is a small furry rat, but in a lab somewhere, perhaps someone said something like:

"We have invented a pointing device that one holds in the palm of the hand, that is used to move objects around a virtual environment. We need a new [xxx]."

Some additional examples "Our product is installed on our user's machine to supply an obvious function, but generates revenue by serving ads. This is an example of [???],"

"Something that operates at the scale of between 1 to 100 billionth of a metre would be prefixed with [???]"

The above examples (mouse, adware, nano-) are technology-oriented, but I'm not limiting my question to technology. So, for example, the unibrow describes eyebrows that join in the middle.

So, what do we call a word that wraps a series of ideas into one succinct word, allowing for efficient communication? What would this process be called? What I'm looking for is to complete the following sentence:

"This new development is crying out for a [xxx], to call it"

I have come up with the following list, but they really don't quite capture the concept:

  • Jargon / colloquialism / idiom - very close and cover some of what I mean. However, jargon has a technical connotation, colloquialism has an informal connotation and idiom has a cultural connotation.
  • Name - This might cover a new object, but would feel clumsy for a new process, function or idea.
  • Noun - this limits it to a specific grammatical element. What about windsurf (a verb).
  • Meme - this felt right, but doesn't quite cover it. So, for example, a mouse isn't a meme.
  • Neologism - I really thought this was it, but it only covers the early part of the adoption cycle.
  • Signifier, Denotata, sign - these is from linguistics and probably comes closest but I feel that it might have a specific technical usage and I cannot see them becoming common.
  • Word - what's wrong with word? I felt that this is too general. I feel that we need another level of abstraction. This really hits at the meta element. What I'm looking for is a word to describe a word that encapsulates an idea. This word would be a specific instance of itself.

Staying with a theme, take an example of meta. Before Hofstadter developed the concept of meta, there was no way of describing "an X about X". Now that we have meta, we can say metaconcept (a concept about concepts), metaphilosophy, metadata and metamathematics. What I need is a metaword.

  • Metaphysics is recorded since 14c, but the actual term was coined 70 B.C.E. See more etymonline.com/index.php?term=metaphysics
    – Unreason
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 9:15
  • I'd argue, Terry, that it would be a neologism. Obviously, it wouldn't remain a neologism forever, but initially that's exactly what it would be.
    – Andy F
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 9:16
  • thanks @Unreason - but that doesn't quite answer the question.
    – Terry
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 9:39
  • 2
    @Terry, that's why it is in comments (it suggests that maybe you might rephrase a part of the question).
    – Unreason
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 9:45
  • @Andy F - I've mentioned neologism, but the "newness" limitation kinda disqualifies it. I guess I'm looking for something a little more general than that, and a little less general than word. "Meta", the final example, is clearly not a neologism, and encompasses an idea in one neat symbol / sign / word.
    – Terry
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 9:57

9 Answers 9


Could this be a simple as term?

We need a new term to describe a word that succinctly sums things up?

  • 3
    ...or, as the OP mentioned, just plain word. It's a neologism or coinage when new, and may be a portmanteau. But those are only particular situations that the OP is seeking a general term or word for.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 15:00

The constipation is self-inflicted. Why restrict yourself to a noun? The language also contains verbs.

"We need to coin a new term for this revolutionary labor-saving device."

You don't find the (weakly metaphoric) verb-phrase "coin a new term" as sexy as a noun that means "the act of coining a new term when, for example, a wholly new class of products is invented or a revolutionary concept is introduced"?

Wouldn't it be better to elucidate a concept than to dream up some neologism to label it?

  • 2
    You're so right @tim. Indeed there should be a word or when people try to unnecessarily jargon-ise, word-ise, instead of just using a good long description. (I suppose I'm saying there should be a nom d'etre for unnecessary nomdetrisation, and I am nomdetrising in so doing.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 14:08
  • 1
    @Joe Blow: Felicity, a lovely mistress but demanding, gives her cold shoulder to those who engage in 'unnecessary nomdetrisation'.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 24, 2011 at 15:15

My suggestion is nom d'etre. I formed that as a combination of the following:

nom de pen — pen name

raison d'etre — reason for being

The idea is that it's a name for being or name for existence. Your sentence would be:

This new development is crying out for a nom d'etre.

For Hofstadter fans, this has the bonus of being self-referential. The phrase "nom d'etre" is its own nom d'etre.

  • Nom de pen??????
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 20 at 15:38

Ironically I think you are looking for the word



conceptual abstraction, linguistic abstraction

something like that. Seems unnecessary though, I would just use the word term.


The proccess of wrapping a series of things into one idea is called summarizing. However, we would be just going around in circles if we do not know specifically what kind of ideas you are talking about. Even if there was an answer, it would be too vague. In short, there is no definite answer to this question. The only way is to know about what are those ideas about.


How about locution?

1. a word or phrase, especially with regard to style or idiom.

2. an utterance regarded in terms of its intrinsic meaning or reference, as distinct from its function or purpose in context.

Another option might be protologism. Like neologism it would only apply to a newly created word, but it does capture the intent of creation. To get more specific maybe use idiomatic protologism.


"word that embodies a concept"

Why not just "concept" itself? It could be a synonym for "idea," "prototype," or "paradigm" ("paradigm" itself could suit some usages for your examples too)

It's a noun-y form of "idea" that fits your examples.

  • The concept of a pointing device was the innovation
  • The concept of ad-based revenue as opposed to up-front-charge
  • The concept of '0.0001 of something' is represented by the prefix milli-

I have come up with the following list, but they really don't quite capture the concept

In true meta fashion, the word that captures the concept is concept


I'm not exactly sure what you're after, so the best I can propose are generic terms describing words of a specific trade or branch of knowledge: terminology, lexicon, nomenclature...

If you're looking for word coinage, I would suggest isology. It has some ground in reality, as it is (sometimes) used in chemistry to describe a series of related compounds. From Greek roots iso- (equal, same) and -logy (used for characteristics of speech or language).

  • I'm not sure about isology, but +1 for terminology and nomenclature. I'd also suggest designation (a distinguishing name, sign or title).
    – psmears
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 9:53
  • 1
    I absolutely agree with terminology, lexicon and nomenclature being appropriate as a collection, but of what?
    – Terry
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 10:40

It's taken me 13 years but I found an answer I'm happy with - "ontic dumping". It's referred to by "Thought from Language: the linguistic construction of cognitive representations." by C.F. Feldman and seems to be relatively widely referenced. He ontically dumped ontic dumping into the idea. I came across it reading "The science of discworld II":

"Ontology is the study of knowledge. Not knowledge itself, just its study. One important way to firm up new knoeledge is to invent new words. For instance, when you make an arrow, someone has to produce the sharp pointy thing that sits at its business end. They chip it from flint or cast it in bronze; either way, you can't go on forever referring to it as 'the sharp pointy thing on the end of an arrow'. So ou cast around for a metaphor, and you remember that the thing that sits the the business end of a person or animal is called its head. So you invent the term 'arrow-head'. You have now dumped the knowledge of what the flint or bronze gadget is into a name. We say 'dumped', because for most purposes you don't need to recall where the name came from. Arrowhead (no hyphen) has now become a thing in its own right, not a property possessed in relation to an arrow.

  • 1
    Ontology is not the study of knowledge.
    – jsw29
    Commented Mar 20 at 15:41
  • Philosophical ontology isn't the study of words. However, ontology does have an information theory definition which is defined as: "an ontology is a way of showing the properties of a subject area and how they are related, by defining a set of terms and relational expressions that represent the entities in that subject area".
    – Terry
    Commented Mar 24 at 6:30

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