Simply put, I am looking to find out if there exists a term for words or phrases that we have commonly accepted connotations for, despite whether or not context exists of its definition or origin.

For example:

  • Breaking news: Most people probably cannot correctly identify the exact origin or official definition for this phrase; despite this, we all can understand it to mean a piece of information that is fresh and typically holds significance.
  • Classifieds (Adverts): Classifieds, in relation to adverts, is one that I find most fascinating. The large majority of people you may ask will think of social classes (work) or soliciting classified information, as most of us, especially in the day of online newspapers, are more familiar with a different meaning of the word classified.
  • Break a leg!: The most weak of any of what I could mention, though popular; consequently, hyperbole is not what I am seeking here. The Vaudeville origins may not be well known, however almost all people do not take this phrase literally - rather, we know it to be a call to good luck.

I do hope this question makes some sense.

  • 2
    Do you mean “idiom”?
    – Laurel
    Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 3:10
  • Classifieds, for one, is in the dictionary: "an advertisement grouped with others according to subject —usually used in plural." As is the sense of break associated with breaking news. So, I'm not sure what you mean by not having a definition for those. Nor do I see why we need to know an origin for something in order to use it correctly. But as has been mentioned, you might be talking about idiomatic usage. Commented Aug 19, 2018 at 3:25

1 Answer 1


Adding to the Laurel's comment "breaking news" and "break a leg!" are idioms, so they are idiomatic in nature.

OED defines idiomatic as:

Using, containing, or denoting expressions that are natural to a native speaker.

So, that is the reason they are readily understood by native speakers.

On the other hand,

To classify, is to arrange in a class or classes, arrange according to common characteristics. Classified is a past participle of classify. The word classified is used in same sense ecumenically and not just provincially.

Classified ads are arranged in a particular class or a group, i.e. cars ads in one section, real estate ads in other section and so on and so forth. The word classified (classify) took connotation of secrecy because of the same reason in 1941. The secret information (in reference to government information) is available only to a particular group or class of people, namely government top officials. The word classified is not used idiomatically here.

So, the single term for first and third expressions is idiom.

Hope it is clear now!

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