Sometimes, when engaged in conversation, English-speakers will say the first half of a well-known saying or idiom, trailing off at the end or punctuating it with a shrug. For instance, they might say "Birds of a feather..." or "When in Rome..." and leaving the "flock together" and "do as the Romans do" completely unsaid, when arguably that unspoken portion was the whole point of their statement in the first place.

Is there a name for such abbreviated usage?

2 Answers 2


The technical term, anapodoton is an appropriate, and perhaps more accurate alternative to ellipsis

An anapodoton (from the Greek anapodosis: "without a main clause") is a rhetorical device related to the anacoluthon. It is a figure of speech or discourse that is an incomplete sentence, consisting of a subject or complement without the requisite object. The stand-alone subordinate clause suggests or implies a subject (a main clause), but this is not actually provided.

As an intentional rhetorical device, it is generally used for set phrases, where the full form is understood, and would thus be tedious to spell out, as in “When in Rome [do as the Romans].” or “If the mountain won't come to Muhammad [Muhammed will go to the mountain].”

You might also call them clipped, or simply, shortened idioms. Here is a list of shortened idioms that I found scouring the ELU archives.

  • 1
    Stunning answer! +1. I too think that ellipsis isn't specific enough.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 13:45
  • 1
    Awesome! Certainly didn't expect an answer after six months, nor one that actually solved the question. Thanks!
    – Ketura
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 21:38
  • 4
    Great answer. I'm not so sure on a couple of your examples though: both "the more the merrier" and "every man for himself" stand on their own, without needing the rest of the original idiom. Hence although they are "shortened idioms" I don't believe they are anapodotons.
    – AndyT
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 10:35

I found a noble page with many rhetorical devices described. Included is the paradoxical Inclusion by Omission:

There are two words that may apply.


An unfinished thought or broken sentence. "If you don't eat up that spinach, I'll..."


Omission of one or more words. "If only pigs could fly!"

Please also see this Wikipedia page on Ellipsis (linguistic).

In linguistics, ellipsis (from the Greek: ἔλλειψις, élleipsis, "omission") or elliptical construction refers to the omission from a clause of one or more words that are nevertheless understood in the context of the remaining elements.


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.