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Best example I can give is a post I saw a while back where someone was trying to remember the name for a manta ray and described it as a sea pancake instead. Logically you could call it a sea pancake and most native speakers will get the gist of what you mean, but the actual name is still manta ray. Is there a word for that sort of phrasing in writing when you use nonstandard language but it still gets the point across or works as a valid name/descriptor?

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    stand-in word? That need not even be a word, maybe.
    – Kris
    Aug 31 '18 at 7:37
  • I would never ever take descriptor out for tea.
    – Lambie
    Apr 2 '21 at 21:27
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Expressing one thing in terms of another, which is what your friend seems to have done, may be put under the umbrella of 'kenning', per the Oxford English Dictionary:

One of the periphrastic expressions used instead of the simple name of a thing, characteristic of Old Teutonic, and esp. Old Norse, poetry.

*Examples are oar-steed = ship, storm of swords = battle.

The term is adopted from the mediæval Icelandic treatises on poetics, and is derived from the idiomatic use of kenna við or til, ‘to name after’.*

Wikipedia has a very detailed and apparently scholarly article on Kennings, which I have linked to above. It isn't very quotable and I can't vouch for its accuracy at all, things are more simply put at YourDictionary.com:

A kenning is a figurative expression that replaces a name or a noun. Often it is a compound of two words and the words are hyphenated. Kennings are usually associated with Old Norse, Icelandic, and Anglo Saxon poetry.

Modern Examples of Kennings:

  • Ankle biter = a very young child
  • Bean counter = a CPA or accountant
  • Bookworm = someone who reads a lot
  • Fender bender = slight car accident
  • Four-eyes = someone who wears glasses
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    The example the OP gave was of someone making up a phrase, not using an established idiom like these. Of course, all of these must have started out with someone making them up the first time.
    – Barmar
    Sep 1 '18 at 3:01
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analogy [noun] a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. ...

  • the syndrome is called deep dysgraphia because of its analogy to deep dyslexia

a thing which is comparable to something else in significant respects.

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    Hi james, please attribute your source.
    – livresque
    Apr 2 '21 at 4:53
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    ... or this may be removed (copyright issues). Apr 2 '21 at 13:26

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