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I have heard about lexical density, but is there such a thing as "idiomatic density", and if so, does it have an established name?

"Idiomatic density" would measure the effectiveness by which a phrase or fixed expression conveys a certain meaning as compared to another phrase with the same meaning, or as compared to "spelling it out" - using a description of the meaning.

A naïve example could be

  1. "spilled the beans"
  2. "laid the cards on the table"
  3. "revealed the secret"

Where 1 and 2 are meant to be "idioms" or "fixed expressions", as opposed to 3, that is a description of the meaning. 1 would be the densest, using fewer words or sounds, where as 2 would be the least dense, using more words or sounds than the others.

Or consider an object oriented programming language:

  1. j = i.add(5)
  2. j = i + 5

Both statements have verifiable the same effect, and therefore arguably the same meaning, but 2 is denser than 1.

  • 2
    A count of letters is not a useful way to look at idiomaticity. 1 and 2 are "idioms" (non-literal expressions) but 3 is compositional. "Drink coffee" would be even denser than any of the above, but then the idiom "keep tabs on" is denser: the notion of "being an idiom" thus seems irrelevant. I think maybe you're looking at sets of phrases that mean the same thing and comparing letter-counts within that set (why letters versus sounds?). If so, I suggest clarifying your question. – user6726 Apr 5 '17 at 16:39
  • @user6726 Thank you for your comment. It doesn't really matter to me what the measurement is - letters or sounds - I'm just interested to know the name for the concept of density in this context: phrases conveying the same meaning in different lengths. – Bex Apr 5 '17 at 16:53
  • 1
    The problem is that there isn't any way to determine whether they have "the same meaning". The very phrase is full of false presuppositions. – jlawler Apr 6 '17 at 1:52

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