I am looking for a word or phrase to denote such a unique phrase that somebody habitually says. This phrase could for example fill the following gap:

My buddy Bill always exclaims “oh wow” whenever he is surprised. “Oh wow” is a _____ of his.

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    I was tempted to say swan song of his - but a swan song is not merely an expression but a typical argument of someone. I think I would just say that it is a favourite expression of his. – WS2 Dec 24 '16 at 9:12
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    Sorry, but this is not correct. A swan song is a last performance before an artist dies or retires. I would suggest "catchphrase". – Kate Bunting Dec 24 '16 at 9:59
  • Is this a cliche ? – Autistic Dec 24 '16 at 10:52
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    @KateBunting catchphrase seems very close but more common when the subject is a famous person. – k1eran Dec 24 '16 at 13:55
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    What about something reusing the words in question - Oh wow” is a habitual saying|expression|phrase of his – k1eran Dec 24 '16 at 14:04

This can be a catchphrase. I think this is most commonly applied to fictional characters, who often have very distinction catchphrases (such as Sheldon's "bazinga" on The Big Bang Theory), but it could conceivably apply to actual people if they have similar ideosyncracies.

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  • Ay Caramba! This is the answer. (D'Oh!) – Scott Dec 30 '16 at 3:49

Perhaps you would say "Oh wow" is a favorite line of his.

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"Hallmark," in that context conveys something unique and dignifiable.

"Bird call," might be slightly contemptuous instead.

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  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. Could you please provide references and/or citations to strengthen your answer? Feel free to visit our Help site on "How do I write a good answer?". – Cascabel Jan 5 '17 at 3:06

How about signature saying or signature phrase?

For example, here are several signature sayings/phrases used by President Barack Obama:

  • “Let me be clear”

  • “Make no mistake”

  • “Here’s the deal”

  • “It will not be easy”

One could also call these catch phrases, but the addition of signature ties them to the person who uses them habitually.


signature: a distinctive pattern, product, or characteristic by which someone or something can be identified

Your example:

My buddy Bill always exclaims “oh wow” whenever he is surprised. “Oh wow” is a signature saying/phase of his.

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  • I think mannerism is usually used to refer to movements or ways of speaking, not the specific words spoken. – Barmar Dec 26 '16 at 17:53
  • @Barmar Now that I think about it, and reread the definition, I think you're right. I'm going to delete. Thanks. – Richard Kayser Dec 26 '16 at 18:25

Might I suggest Leitmotif

'Oh wow' is a leitmotif of his.

Though it's more commonly used in terms of music but I think it can work in this situation. I came across this site, it would be helpful too.

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