A synecdoche (//, si-NEK-də-kee; from Greek synekdoche (συνεκδοχή), meaning "simultaneous understanding") is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something, or vice versa. An example is referring to workers as hired hands.
Similar figures of speech
Synecdoche is a rhetorical trope and a type of figurative speech similar to metonymy—a figure of speech in which a term that denotes one thing is used to refer to a related thing. Indeed, synecdoche is sometimes considered a subclass of metonymy. It is more distantly related to other figures of speech, such as metaphor.
More rigorously, metonymy and synecdoche can be considered sub-species of metaphor, intending metaphor as a type of conceptual substitution (as Quintilian does in Institutio oratoria Book VIII). In Lanham's Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, the three terms have somewhat restrictive definitions, arguably in tune with a certain interpretation of their etymologies from Greek:
- metaphor: changing a word from its literal meaning to one not properly applicable but analogous to it; assertion of identity rather than, as with simile, likeness.
- metonymy: substitution of cause for effect, proper name for one of its qualities, etc.
The word "synecdoche" is derived from the Greek word συνεκδοχή = "together-out-accepting", from the prepositions συν- + εκ- and the verb δέχομαι (= "I accept"), originally meaning accepting a part as responsible for the whole, or vice versa.
Synecdoche is often used as a type of personification, by attaching a human aspect to a non-human thing. This is used in reference to political relations, including "having a footing," used to mean a country or organization is in a position to act, or "the wrong hands," to describe opposing groups, usually in the context of military power.
Synecdoche can be used to emphasize an important aspect of a fictional character; for example, the X-Files character the Smoking Man. Sonnets and other forms of love poetry frequently use synecdoches to characterize the beloved in terms of individual body parts rather than a coherent whole. This practice is especially common in the Petrarchan sonnet, where the idealised beloved is often described part by part, from head to toe.
It is also popular in advertising. Since synecdoche uses a part to represent a whole, its use requires the audience to make associations and "fill in the gaps," engaging with the ad by thinking about the product. Moreover, catching the attention of an audience with advertising is often referred to by advertisers as "getting eyeballs," another synecdoche. Synecdoche is very common in spoken English, especially in reference to sports. The names of cities are used as shorthand for their sports teams to describe events and their outcomes, such as "Denver won Monday's game," when specifically a sports team was victorious.
Kenneth Burke on synecdoche
Kenneth Burke declared that in rhetoric the four master tropes, or figures of speech, are metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. Burke's primary concern with these four master tropes is not simply their figurative usage, but with their role in the discovery and description of the truth.
He defined synecdoche as “… part of the whole, whole for the part, container for the contained, sign for the thing signified, material for the thing made…cause for the effect, effect for the cause, genus for the species, species for the genus…". Burke's definition provides examples of relationships of convertibility. In addition, Burke suggests that synecdoche patterns can include reversible pairs such as disease-cure.
Burke proclaimed the noblest synecdoche is found in the description of microcosm and macrocosm, “since microcosm is related to macrocosm as part to the whole, and either the whole can represent the part or the part can represent the whole."
Burke also suggested that the word synecdoche can be substituted for the word representation. For example, Burke presented synecdoche in a political realm. In some forms of government one is elected from a social body to represent the entirety of that specific social body. Therefore, this form of government displays a synecdochic relationship since it includes a form of representation, i.e. a part of the whole.
||This section may contain excessive, poor, or irrelevant examples. (May 2014)|
- A part referring to the whole (pars pro toto)
- Referring to people according to a single characteristic: "the gray beard" representing an older man or "the long hair" representing a hippie. This leads to bahuvrihi compounds.
- Describing a complete vehicle as "wheels", or a motorcycle as handlebars
- Referring to people by a particular body part. For example, "head count", "counting noses", or "all hands on deck!", or "eyeballs" observing adverts
- Describing a small portable radio as a "transistor" (though that may simply be an abbreviation for "transistor radio"), or a CRT-based television receiver as "the tube"
- Saying bubbles or bubbly to refer to Champagne or any other sparkling wine
- "Arabian sands" to refer the Arabian deserts.
In Wordsworth's "We Are Seven", the speaker says, "Your limbs they are alive" (l. 34). "Limbs" represent the entire body, so the narrator is trying to explain to the little girl that she is alive and breathing, unlike her two dead siblings.
In Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight", the speaker says "…or the redbreast sit and sing/ Betwixt the tufts of snow…" (l. 67-8). This phrase symbolizes the coming of spring, as robins are referred to as harbingers of spring.
- A general class name used to denote a specific member of that or an associated class
- "the good book", or "The Book" for the Bible ("Bible" itself comes from the Greek for "book")
- "truck" for any four-wheel drive vehicle (as well as long-haul trailers, etc.)
- "He's good people". (Here, the word "people" is used to denote a specific instance of people, i.e., a person. So the sentence would be interpreted as "He's a good person".)
- "Le football", French term for Association Football, literally "the football", which is only one of many forms of football. Adopted into UK-English via French as "football".
- A specific class name that refers to a general set of associated things
- "John Hancock" used in the United States, for the signature of any person
- a genericized trademark, for example "Coke" for any variety of cola (or for any variety of soft drink, as in the southern United States), "Band-Aid" for any variety of adhesive bandage, or "Styrofoam" for any product made of expanded polystyrene.
- The material that a thing is (actually, historically, or supposedly) made of referring to that thing
- "brass" for brass instruments
- "cement" for concrete, cement being just the binder in concrete
- "flint" (the sparking bit in a lighter) for ferrocerium (which is not made of flint)
- "glasses" for spectacles
- "irons" for shackles placed around a prisoner's wrists or ankles to restrict his movement
- "ivories" for a piano
- "lead" for bullets
- "lead" for the graphite core of a pencil
- "pigskin" for an American or Canadian football
- "plastic" for a credit card
- "rubber" for a condom
- "silver" for tableware, cutlery or other dishes that were once made of silver metal
- "steel" for a sword
- "strings" for string instruments
- "threads" for clothing
- "tin" for a container made with tin plating
- "wax" or "vinyl" for a vinyl record (successor to wax phonograph cylinders)
- "willow" for a cricket bat
- "wood" for a type of club used in the sport of golf
- A container is used to refer to its contents
- "barrel" for a barrel of oil
- "keg" for a keg of beer
- "he drank the cup", to refer to his drinking of the cup's contents
- Definition of Synecdoche, St. Edward's University
- Synecdoche - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
- Synecdoche Dictionary meaning, Merriam-Webster
- N. R. Clifton (1983). The Figure on Film. University of Delaware Press. pp. 173–. ISBN 978-0-87413-189-5. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Oxford English Dictionary- synecdoche, University of Pennsylvania
- Examples of Synecdoch e from day to day life
- Jakobson, Roman & Morris Halle (1956). Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton. p. 95. ISBN 117871814X.
- Figurative Language- language using figures of speech, University of West Georgia
- Lanham, Richard A (1991). A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms: A Guide for Students of English Literature, Second Edition. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: California University Press. p. 189. ISBN 0-520-07669-9.
- Political Metaphors: http://www.politicalmetaphors.com/tag/synecdoche/
- Chandler, Daniel, Semiotics: the Basics. Routledge, New York, 2007. (132-133): http://books.google.com/books?id=utd_AgAAQBAJ&lpg=PT126&ots=IoMhYPzloj&dq=Barthes%201974%2C%20162%3B&pg=PT126#v=onepage&q=Barthes%201974,%20162;&f=false
- Synecdoche: The Art of Getting Eyeballs, Liz Bureman: http://thewritepractice.com/synecdoche/
- Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall. p. 503.
- Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall. pp. 507–508.
- Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall. p. 508.
- Stephen Greenblatt et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume D, 9th edition (Norton, 2012)
- Monateri, Pier Giuseppe (1958). La Sineddoche. Formule e regole nel diritto delle obbligazioni e dei contratti. Milano: Giuffré.
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