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I read an article the other day with this term, but I can't for the life of me remember what it is.

Essentially, the vaguely describes/hints at something, but the reader is never made aware of the specific details as their imagination will infer something that has a greater effect.

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  • Are you referring to a physical object or could the 'something' be a concept or belief? Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:42
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    In Films this is known as a McGuffin or MacGuffin. "An object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself." Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 22:27
  • @PeterJennings Wow, great term.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 22:54
  • Or are you referring to a scene (particularly a disagreeable one) that isn't described in detail but left to the reader's imagination? Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 8:58
  • Yes, Kate, that's what I'm referring to. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 21:13

2 Answers 2

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I think the term ellipsis may fit the bill here. While it frequently means the act of leaving out single words or parts of sentences, it can also be used to describe the choice to leave out entire scenes.

From the linked article, describing an excerpt from The Great Gatsby:

This is an extremely significant use of ellipsis from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. In this excerpt, the narrator Nick Carraway has left a party with another man, Mr. McKee. They agree to go to lunch as they are in the elevator, and Fitzgerald then separates that with an ellipsis and suddenly Nick is standing next to this man’s bed, while Mr. McKee is in his underwear. The leap is surprising, and seems to omit not redundant information, but instead a very key moment in the relationship between these two men. Many scholars have taken this incident, made implicit through the use of the ellipsis, that Nick Carraway is, in fact, gay.

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https://literaryterms.net/aposiopesis/

Aposiopesis is when a sentence is purposefully left incomplete or cut off. It’s caused by an inability or unwillingness to continue speaking. This allows the ending to be filled in by the listener’s imagination.

IV. Examples of Aposiopesis in Literature Aposiopesis is used in literature for dramatic effects. It can show that a character is overwhelmed with emotion. Or, it can allow the reader to fill in horrors or threats with their own imaginations. When characters pause due to strong emotion or searching for words, they appear more realistic and believable.

Example 1 An example of this may be found in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Lear is so upset he cannot think of proper punishment for his misbehaving daughters:

I will have revenges on you both

That all the world shall-- I will do such things--

What they are yet, I know not; but they shall be

The terrors of the earth!

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