One hundred years ago if a speech included a particular bible reference, everyone (from a western country) would get it and understand the context.

Today there are less of these commonly held reference points, but if one says 'Are you feeling lucky?' an audience might think 'Well, do you punk', think about Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry or it could conjure up thoughts about renegade cops or taking risks.

In the UK the phrase 'taking back control', repeatedly used by the Brexit Leave campaign would be widely recognised and would invoke deep connotations (which could be positive or negative).

  • Are you thinking of something along the lines of a catchphrase or more like a famous quotation? I might also think of cliché but you don't seem to be implying a negative connotation. Apr 20, 2018 at 13:17
  • 2
    In popular usage "meme" ?
    – mgb
    Apr 20, 2018 at 13:37
  • Signature? So "taking back control" is a signature phrase of the Brexit campaign. Label? Margaret Thatcher's cabinet consisted of Wets and Drys. The fact that there are many candidates may suggest that there is no definite answer.
    – Aethelbald
    Apr 20, 2018 at 13:50
  • @mgb - meme is what came to my mind as well. I’m trying to decide whether that extends to cultural references like movie quotes or not.
    – Jim
    Apr 20, 2018 at 13:52
  • Thanks everyone, your suggestions made me realise that the question I was really getting at was 'what's the word for a widely recognised phrase that evokes a particular set of emotions'. The answer to which is 'Affect-Heuristic' en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affect_heuristic
    – Bryn
    Apr 20, 2018 at 15:09

2 Answers 2


A "colloquialism" or "colloquial" phrase may fit as an answer to your question about a commonly understood (in time or place) meaning for a non-literary expression. Possibly "vernacular" could work as well.




Affect Heuristic

An 'affect heuristic' is a mental short cut to a particular set of emotions. The human mind often takes short cuts based on assumptions (heuristics) which can evoke emotions (affect) which make decision making easier.

Once a phrase, logo or chime is repeated often enough whilst an emotion is being felt or encouraged they can become linked. Repeating the stimulus can lead to our brains short-cutting to that emotion.

Affect heuristics are why I think I'm going to feel happy when I buy things I've seen advertised and why I feel frustrated every time my parents tell me to 'tidy my room'.

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