For example, in computers, we often say "x86" to refer to 32-bit computers or software, even though technically 64-bit computers are also x86 - instead of saying x86_32 and x86_64, we say x86 and x64.

Likewise, we sometimes say "I'm connecting over Ethernet" to mean with an Ethernet cable, because many interfaces will say "Ethernet" for the wired connection and "Wireless" for the wireless, even though it would be clearer to say "wired Ethernet" and "wireless Ethernet".

For a more familiar example, you might ask someone "Milk or soy?" with the understanding that you're asking about cow milk vs. soy milk.

Question: Is there a name for this phenomenon, where you just say "[set A]" and expect people to understand that you specifically mean "items in set A but not in set B" even though B is a subset of A? It's somewhat related to contrastive focus reduplication in that it relies on shared understanding of the prototypical or iconic example of a category.

  • I remember seeing a related question on here a while ago, but I can't find it... In any event, milk has meant "cow's milk" for so long that this is a hard-coded meaning. Thus "milk or soy" doesn't seem exactly analogous (except by backward projection) to the examples of x86 and x64, and Ethernet and wireless. Still, it works as an example (this is just a pedantic point).
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 21:57
  • 3
    By the way, using "Ethernet" to mean "wired Ethernet" and "milk" for "cow's milk" are examples of using hypernyms for hyponyms which sit under them (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyponymy_and_hypernymy). Not sure about "x86" for "x36", but if there's a word for using a hypernym in place of a hyponym, there's your answer.
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 22:01
  • 1
    @Silenus I may have found the one you were thinking of. Check the last link in my answer. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


This is a pretty specific idea, so I don't know that there will be any perfect answers, but here are some candidates.

Implicit semantic compression

A natural tendency to keep natural language expressions concise can be perceived as a form of implicit semantic compression, by omitting unmeaningful words or redundant meaningful words (especially to avoid pleonasms).

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_compression

It's can also be thought of as a specific kind of metonym or synecdoche where a category name is used in place of a proper subset.

Another possibility is


A hyponym which is the same as its hypernym.

Source: How do you refer to a hyponym that is the same word as the hypernym?

Other related words: meronym and holonym.

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