Tuesday Terminology: Metonymy

One thing I love about teaching figures of speech is that people understand how to use them even if they don’t know what they’re called. So, let’s put some names with faces.

You use metonymy—trust me—even if you’ve never heard the word. It simply means calling something, not by its name, but by an associated word. Let’s just jump into an example:

Sir Howard swore allegiance to the crown.

Aside from some interesting characters, most knights are not going around talking to royal diadems. They are swearing to the king or queen, the head honcho. “The crown” is associated with the king/queen and stands in for him/her. Hence, you have metonymy. One more:

The Supreme Court issued a ruling.

Only in weird dreams and cartoons do buildings talk; instead, we know that the Supreme Court justices issued the ruling.

For bonus points, there are some subtypes of metonymy, including one of my favorite words to say: synecdoche (si-NEK-duh-kee). A synecdoche is a metonymy in which a part of something refers to the whole.

All hands on deck.

Unless you’re writing about puppets, this is a synecdoche referring to the crew of the ship (i.e., hands = crew members). Synecdoche often focuses on the most important aspect of the larger concept. In this example, the hands are the part of the crew that does the work.

Any famous examples of metonymy that come to mind? Anyone else love saying synecdoche?


One thought on “Tuesday Terminology: Metonymy

  1. Gee, opportunities to say synecdoche just don’t arise too often for me. Not since that English class where we went through ALL of the rhetorical devices. I actually enjoyed it very much, but I think I was the only one in the class who did. Why weren’t you there? ;o)

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