For example, you say "I have to get the worm" to mean you must wake up early, when the pertinent bit of the idiom "the early bird gets the worm" is the "early bird" part

  • I would call it confusing. Why do you want a case of "the worms"?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 6, 2018 at 1:09

1 Answer 1


I think the word you're looking for is a form of anapodoton.

Wiktionary: The rhetorical device in which a main clause is implied by a subordinate clause, without mention.

I've only ever seen it written, but there must be some people out there who drop it regularly into their dinnertime conversations.

Like the example in your question, it would be used in situations where in a given context the other person could fill in the blanks. For example I might say, "in general, Wikipedia articles are great, but sometimes they're a confusing mish-mashh of ideas -- too many cooks I suppose," and you wouldn't need the whole idiom --too many cooks spoil the broth -- to understand what I meant (assuming you're familiar with Wikipedia).

Another example -- Sensible A is advising adventurous B to be more prudent:

"No that's a crazy pipe-dream. There's no way of telling if you'll succeed. Agreed, your job is mind-numbingly boring, but it's well paid. It's your bird in the hand."
(And A thereby saves himself the more long-winded version where he's got to explain that according to the old proverb a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.)

Ok those examples might be slightly forced and I'll forgo any further attempts. Wiktionary lists a bunch of anapodota which a native speaker would 'get' without further ado.

all good things
if looks could kill
if pigs had wings
if the cap fits
if the mountain won't come to Muhammad
if the shoe fits
opinions are like assholes
plus ça change
when in Rome
when the cat's away
where there is a will

Edit: though to be honest it took me a while to get the one on opinions.

  • 1
    Example from the LA Times: But the hard truth is that if its community cannot sustain the museum, not much can be done. ("If wishes were horses," and all.)
    – njuffa
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 2:19

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