For example orange - orange describes exactly what it is.

I thought that the word was onomatopoeia but when I looked it up — it's described as sounds; e.g. bleat for lamb or miaow for cat.

I was watching a TV cop programme, and one of the female officers was being unkind/rude about a fellow male officer who was called Dick, saying he was an onomatopoeia. I am sure I did look this up at some point and was given the nicer description of orange as an example of an onomatopoeia. So can someone clarify for me?

  • What do you call those words which have no description which does not use the word itself - may be in a different context. eg Meow - (verb) to produce the 'meow' sound made by cats.
    – ARi
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 7:28
  • 1
    "Self-reflexive" is a term in philosophy for something that describes itself.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 13:22
  • "Orange" doesn't exactly describe what an orange is, just the color. One might simply say the word is "apropos" or "appropriate". "Your name is Dick. How appropriate."
    – jimm101
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 21:05

2 Answers 2


You might be looking for an autological word:

An autological word (also called homological word or autonym) is a word that expresses a property that it also possesses.

...e.g. the word "short" is short, "noun" is a noun, "English" is English, "pentasyllabic" is pentasyllabic, as it has five syllables, "sesquipedalian" is sesquipedalian (that is, a long word), "adjectival" is adjectival...


(Though I'm not sure if it applies to orange the fruit which is orange in color.)

A single word alternative is autonym, as mentioned. However, bear in mind it has other definitions which are more common:

Autonym may refer to:

  • Autonym, the name used by a person to refer to themselves or their language

  • Autonym (botany), an automatically created infrageneric or infraspecific name

  • Autological word, a word that describes itself

  • Well, you can have the word "orange" in any color you want, so I don't think it applies necessarily.
    – Laurel
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:16
  • You should be checking for duplicates; a search for 'autological' quickly turns them up here. Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 9:50
  • @EdwinAshworth: Duly noted. But like I said, I'm not sure if orange is autological. There could be another right answer, in which case the post won't be a duplicate.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 20:52
  • Questions are marked as duplicates (as here) on ELU. If you have a better answer, by all means post it at the original thread. Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 16:58

A description of a word consists of an ordered sequence of a finite number of words.

When it is impossible to avoid including the word in its own description it is known as an autologism

Two particular cases where an autologism is necessitated are

  1. The description of language X in Language X. : Clearly if X denotes a particular set of words. Any description of this set using its own elements if complete will involve a self reference or an autologism eg English (noun) The English language [ autologism ]

  2. The description of an entity with no verbally expressible property which identifies it. There are two types here

    (a) Sounds : eg Meow (noun) The sound 'Meow' produced by a cat. These are known as onomatopoeic words, such as quack, splash, squeak, meow, boom. ( from Greek onomatopoiia ‘word-making’, from onoma, onomat- ‘name’ + -poios ‘making’ (from poiein ‘to make’)).

    (b) When proper nouns are used as generic ones eg Kafkaesque, Shavian.

  • 1
    @Ari: I think what @Mari-Lou was pointing out was that you abbreviated the word number as no. Perhaps you'd like to edit it.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 9:09

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