There exist certain fixed expressions which people use to convey quite specific meanings and (at least to me) always invoke a famous saying which is assumed to be common knowledge, such as

  • I am not a crook (AFAIK primarily American English), denoting that the speaker has done something dubious
  • I have a cunning plan (AFAIK primarily British English), denoting the proposition of an absurd/risky/generally bad idea

However, it seems to me that these phrases are not typical idioms because their meaning is at least partly compositional, unlike e.g. kick the bucket: Nevertheless, they invoke a more nuanced meaning than the composition of the words themselves implies, and there even seems to be some contrast between these expressions and a pure generative usage of the above phrases:

  • I'm not a crook! → The speaker is not a crook (unmarked meaning)
  • (said in a stilted voice) I am not a crook. → The speaker has done something dubious

Is there any terminology commonly used for describing this specific phenomenon?

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    Quotation? Allusion? Intertextuality? – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 19 '16 at 13:51
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    They'd be considered cliches - overused set phrases. Cliches aren't just limited to ironic meanings. The examples you've given do seem to have pretty compositional meanings though they are now used more ironically. – curiousdannii Nov 19 '16 at 16:25

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