A long time ago somebody gave me a word for phrases that are so popular that they need not be completed to be understood.

For example, saying just "Old habits..." to imply the phrase "Old habits die hard".

Is there a name for phrases like this, or the act of using just the memorable parts of sayings?

  • 6
    A phrase that doesn't need to be completed is called a Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 14:02
  • 2
    Well, it goes without saying that
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 19:53

7 Answers 7


In addition to what has already been said, this type of phrase might also be considered a Synecdoche:

a word or phrase which uses a part of something to represent its whole. Some general examples include using "suits" to refer to businessmen, "threads" to refer to clothing, and "stick shift" or "stick" to refer to the type of manual transmission of a car or even the car itself (e.g., "Can you drive a stick shift?").

Examples I can think of that are similar to yours include:

  • "Life is like a box of chocolates" to refer to the longer quote from Forrest Gump,
  • "Death and taxes" to refer to "The only two certainties in life are death and taxes",

and possibly

  • "Jack of all trades" to refer to "Jack of all trades, master of none" or "Blood of the covenant" to refer to "Blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb".
  • 4
    I feel I should comment that the "blood of the covenant" quote is a modern invention, and much newer than the shorter "blood is thicker than water" with apparently opposite meaning. It's become popular to claim the longer version is the "original" but there are no scholarly sources to support this assertion.
    – trent
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 14:24

Could it be the word ellipsis?

According to Oxford Learner's Dictionaries:

  1. The act of leaving out a word or words from a sentence deliberately, when the meaning can be understood without them.
  2. Three dots (…) used to show that a word or words have been left out.

Elliptical phrase or elliptical clause seems to be the name

elliptical clause: A clause in which something is omitted, usually because it is understood. In the sentence “If in doubt, check the manual.” “If in doubt” is an elliptical clause, with words such as “you are” omitted.

In using such phrases you may be speaking 'elliptically'.

elliptic adj.

  1. Of, relating to, or having the shape of an ellipse.
  2. Containing or characterized by ellipsis.
  3. a. Of or relating to extreme economy of oral or written expression.
    b. Marked by deliberate obscurity of style or expression.

I would call this an implication, or even an implied cliché.

Lexico defines an implication as "the conclusion that can be drawn from something, although it is not explicitly stated", and a cliché as "a phrase or opinion that is overused..."


Phrases so popular that they need not be completed to be understood are a kind of common currency, perhaps (i.e. something that a lot of people know about and talk about).

The name for phrases where only a part is used (with the rest understood) is ellipsis.


I believe you’re thinking of “anapodoton”.

Anapodoton originated from the Greek anapodosis which means “without a main clause.” It is generally used for popular idioms or oft used sentences where one can easily guess the missing words. Like 'If the shoe fits, (wear it)' or 'If pigs had wings, (they would fly)'.

  • Please give the source of your quotation.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 11 at 11:40
  • I've upvoted in anticipation of a supporting reference. Two caveats: (1) the term is used for any lack of completeness, be it deliberate (as here) or desultory / (2) this describes the act/pronouncement (like ellipsis), not the truncated sentence etc. Commented Feb 11 at 16:01

Proverbs, by their defintion, are sayings that are

simple and concrete, popularly known and repeated, and express a truth based on common sense or experience

Proverbs often don't need to be finished because almost any fluent speaker will have heard most of them a great deal throughout their lifetime. The example you have given is one such proverb.

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