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Metonymy (pron.: // mi-TONN-ə-mee) is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept.
For instance, "Hollywood" is used as a metonym (an instance of metonymy) for the U.S. film industry, because of the fame and cultural identity of Hollywood, a district of the city of Los Angeles, California, as the historical center of film studios and film stars. A building which houses the seat of government or the national capital is often used to represent the government of a country, such as "Westminster" (Parliament of the United Kingdom) or "Washington" (United States government).
The words "metonymy" and "metonym" come from the Greek: μετωνυμία, metōnymía, "a change of name", from μετά, metá, "after, beyond" and -ωνυμία, -ōnymía, a suffix used to name figures of speech, from ὄνῠμα, ónyma or ὄνομα, ónoma, "name." Metonymy also may be instructively contrasted with metaphor. Both figures involve the substitution of one term for another. In metaphor, this substitution is based on some specific similarity, whereas, in metonymy, the substitution is based on some understood association (contiguity).
Cognitive science and linguistics for metaphor and metonymy 
Metonymy works by the contiguity (association) between two concepts, whereas metaphor works by the similarity between them. When people use metonymy, they do not typically wish to transfer qualities from one referent to another as they do with metaphor: there is nothing press-like about reporters or crown-like about a monarch, but "the press" and "the crown" are both common metonyms. Of course, metaphors reside in every metonymical phrase, and thus the relationship between "a crown" and a "king" could be interpreted metaphorically (i.e., the king, like his gold crown, could be seemingly stiff yet ultimately malleable, over-ornate, and consistently immobile).
Two examples using the term "fishing" help clarify the distinction. The phrase "to fish pearls" uses metonymy, drawing from "fishing" the idea of taking things from the ocean. What is carried across from "fishing fish" to "fishing pearls" is the domain of metonymy.
In contrast, the metaphorical phrase "fishing for information" transfers the concept of fishing into a new domain. If someone is "fishing" for information, we do not imagine that the person is anywhere near the ocean; rather, we transpose elements of the action of fishing (waiting, hoping to catch something that cannot be seen, probing) into a new domain (a conversation). Thus, metaphor works by presenting a target set of meanings and using them to suggest a similarity between items, actions, or events in two domains, whereas metonymy calls up or references a specific domain (here, removing items from the sea).
Here are some broad kinds of relationships where metonymy is frequently used:
- Containment: When one thing contains another, it can frequently be used metonymically, as when "dish" is used to refer not to a plate but to the food it contains, or as when the name of a building is used to refer to the entity it contains, as when "the White House" or "the Pentagon" are used to refer to the US presidential staff or the military leadership, respectively.
- Tools/Instruments: Often a tool is used to signify the job it does or the person who does the job, as in the phrase "the press" (referring to the printing press), or as in the idiom, "The pen is mightier than the sword."
- Synecdoche: A part of something is often used for the whole, as when people refer to "head" of cattle or assistants are referred to as "hands."
- Toponyms: A country's capital city is frequently used as a metonym for the country's government, such as Washington, D.C. in the United States. Similarly, other important places, such as Wall Street and Hollywood are commonly used to refer to the industries that are located there (finance and entertainment, respectively).
Sometimes, metaphor and metonymy may both be at work in the same figure of speech, or one could interpret a phrase metaphorically or metonymically. For example, the phrase "lend me your ear" could be analyzed in a number of ways. One could imagine the following interpretations:
- Analyze "ear" metonymically first – "ear" means "attention" (because we use ears to pay attention to someone's speech). Now, when we hear the phrase "lending an ear (attention)", we stretch the base meaning of "lend" (to let someone borrow an object) to include the "lending" of non-material things (attention), but, beyond this slight extension of the verb, no metaphor is at work.
- Imagine the whole phrase literally – imagine that the speaker literally borrows the listener's ear as a physical object (and the person's head with it). Then the speaker has temporary possession of the listener's ear, so the listener has granted the speaker temporary control over what the listener hears. We then interpret the phrase "lend me your ear" metaphorically to mean that the speaker wants the listener to grant the speaker temporary control over what the listener hears.
- First, analyze the verb phrase "lend me your ear" metaphorically to mean "turn your ear in my direction", since we know that, literally, lending a body part is nonsensical. Then, analyze the motion of ears metonymically – we associate "turning ears" with "paying attention", which is what the speaker wants the listeners to do.
It is difficult to say which of the above analyses most closely represents the way a listener interprets the expression, and it is possible that the phrase is analysed in different ways by different listeners, or even in different ways by the same listener at different times. Regardless, all three analyses yield the same interpretation; thus, metaphor and metonymy, though quite different in their mechanism, may work together seamlessly. For further analysis of idioms in which metaphor and metonymy work together, including an example very similar to the one given here, read this article entitled Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast.
The concept of metonymy also informs the nature of polysemy, i.e., how the same phonological form (word) has different semantic mappings (meanings). If the two meanings are unrelated, as in the word pen meaning both writing instrument and enclosure, they are considered homonyms.
Within logical polysemies, a large class of mappings may be considered to be a case of metonymic transfer (e.g., chicken for the animal, as well as its meat; crown for the object, as well as the institution). Other cases wherein the meaning is polysemous, however, may turn out to be more metaphorical, e.g., eye as in the eye of the needle.
Rhetorical strategy 
Metonymy also may refer to the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly, by referring to things contiguous to it, in either time or space. For example, in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, the main character Elizabeth's change of heart and love for her suitor, Mr. Darcy, is first revealed when she sees his house:
They gradually ascended for half-a-mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.
Austen describes the house and Elizabeth's admiration for the estate at length as an indirect way of describing her feelings for Mr. Darcy. One could attempt to read this as an extended metaphor, but such a reading would break down as one tried to find a way to map the elements of her description (rising ground, swollen river) directly to attributes of her suitor. Furthermore, an extended metaphor typically highlights the author's ingenuity by maintaining an unlikely similarity to an unusual degree of detail.
In this description, on the other hand, although there are many elements of the description that we could transfer directly from the grounds to the suitor (natural beauty, lack of artifice), Austen is emphasizing the consistency of the domain of use rather than stretching to make a fresh comparison: each of the things she describes she associates with Darcy, and in the end we feel that Darcy is as beautiful as the place to which he is compared and that he belongs within it. Metonymy of this kind, thus, helps define a person or thing through a set of mutually reinforcing associations rather than through a comparison.
Advertising frequently uses this kind of metonymy, putting a product in close proximity to something desirable in order to make an indirect association that would seem crass if made with a direct comparison.
Synecdoche, wherein a specific part of something is used to refer to the whole, usually is understood as a specific kind of metonymy. Sometimes, however, people make an absolute distinction between a metonymy and a synecdoche, treating metonymy as different from, rather than inclusive of, synecdoche. There is a similar problem with the use of simile and metaphor.
When the distinction is made, it is the following: when "A" is used to refer to "B", it is a synecdoche if A is a component of B and a metonym if A is commonly associated with B, but not part of its whole.
Thus, "The White House said" would be a metonymy for the president and his staff, because the White House (A) is not part of the president nor of his staff (B), but is closely associated with them. On the other hand, "20,000 hungry mouths to feed" is a synecdoche because mouths (A) are a part of the people (B) referred to.
One example of a simple sentence that displays synecdoche, metaphor, and metonymy is: "Fifty keels ploughed the deep", where "keels" is the synecdoche, as it names the whole (the ship) after a particular part (of the ship); "ploughed" is the metaphor, as it substitutes the concept of ploughing a field for moving through the ocean; and "the deep" is the metonym, as "depth" is an attribute associated with the ocean.
See also 
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (January 2010)|
- "Metonymy | Define Metonymy at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
- Gibbs, Jr., Raymond W. (1999). "Speaking and Thinking with Metyonymy", in Pattern and process: a Whiteheadina perspective on linguistics, ed. Klaus-Uwe Panther and Günter Radden. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 61–76. ISBN 9027223564.
- Beard, Adrian (2000). The Language of Politics. London: Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 978-0415201780.
- Welsh, Alfred Hux; James Mickleborough Greenwood (1893). Studies in English Grammar: A Comprehensive Course for Grammar Schools, High Schools, and Academies. New York City: Silver Burdett. p. 222.
- Dirven, René and Ralf Pörings (2002). Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3110173741.
- Tompkins, Penny and James Lawley. "Metonymy and Part-Whole Relationships". www.cleanlanguage.co.uk. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- Chandler, Daniel. "Rhetorical Tropes". Semiotics for Beginners. Aberystwyth University. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- example drawn from Dirven, 1996
- Geeraerts, Dirk (2002). "The interaction of metaphor and metonymy in composite expressions". In Dirven, René; Pörings, Ralf. Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Retrieved August 20, 2006.[page needed]
- Corbett, Edward P.J. (4 August 1998) . Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511542-0.
- Dirven, René. Conversion as a Conceptual Metonymy of Basic Event Schemata.
- Fass, Dan. Processing Metonymy and Metaphor. ISBN 1-56750-231-8.
- Somov, Georgij Yu. (2009). "Metonymy and its manifestation in visual artworks: Case study of late paintings by Bruegel the Elder". Semiotica 2009 (174): 309–66. doi:10.1515/semi.2009.037.
- Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.
- Blank, Andreas (1998), Prinzipien des lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Tübingen: Niemeyer.
- Grzega, Joachim (2004), Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Ein Beitrag zur englischen und allgemeinen Onomasiologie, Heidelberg: Winter.
- Warren, Beatrice (2006), "Referential Metonymy", Royal Society of Letters at Lund, Lund, Sweden; ISBN 91-22-02148-5
Further reading 
- Fass, Dan (1988). "Metonymy and metaphor: what's the difference?". Proceedings of the 12th conference on Computational linguistics 1. pp. 177–81. doi:10.3115/991635.991671. ISBN 963-8431-56-3.
- René Dirvens & Ralf Pörings, ed. (2002). Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter
- Lakoff, George (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-46801-1.
- Low, Graham. "An Essay is a Person". In Cameron, Lynne; Low, Graham. Researching and Applying Metaphor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 221–48. ISBN 978-0-521-64964-3.
- Jakobson, Roman (1995 (originally published in 1956)). "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Disturbances". In Linda Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston. On Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-63536-1
- Metonymy as a cross-lingual phenomenon [Peters 2003] ()
- Peters, Wim (2003). "Metonymy as a cross-lingual phenomenon". Proceedings of the ACL 2003 workshop on Lexicon and figurative language 14. pp. 1–9. doi:10.3115/1118975.1118976.
- Gaines, Charles (2003). "Reconsidering Metaphor/Metonymy: Art and the Suppression of Thought" (64). Unknown parameter