[ me-ton'-y-my ]
Circa 1831 in popular English literature
metonymy: Substituting the name of an attribute or feature for the name of the thing itself (as in "they counted heads"). —WordNet 1.7.1 Princeton University
From the Greek meta, "change" and onoma, "name"
metonym, noun: a word used in metonymy.
Related forms: metonymic, metonymical, adjectives — metonymically, adverb
METONYMY IN RECENT USE
"Hollywood metonymy for female characters is "handbags," also known as "girlfriend parts"—in other words, incidental sidekicks."
The New Yorker Oct. 26, 2009 "Man of Extremes: The Return of James Cameron Dana Goodyear 61
Use of the word metonymy is common enough among teachers of rhetoric and composition, as well as, they hope, among their students. But it is not commonly used in public discourse, so I was surprised — delighted, actually — to read James Cameron use it when he reported that the "Hollywood metonym for female characters is "handbags." By substituting the metonym "handbags" for "female actors," certain Hollywood producers (aka Hollywood) reveal themselves to be cynical and patriarchal.
Although the word metonymy appears infrequently in common usage, common usage shows frequent appearances of actual metonymies, some experts claiming they occur conceptually as frequently as do metaphors.
So I thought I'd dedicate the rest of this posting to words and phrases that appear to be simple enough but which which are actually instances metonymy. To mentally process a metonymy, the reader must become engaged with the word, by drawing an inference, as with "They counted heads," where the reader infers that the reference is to people because people have heads. That brief inferential engagement with the word gives it a touch of emphasis; it gives the reader a sense of ownership because she has had to do some work to "get" it.
The reality is that we are speaking in metonymies all of the time.
FROM WALTER NASH
Metonymy substitutes the token for the type, substitutes, that is, a particular instance, property, characteristic or association, for the general principle or function. Its terms of reference very often bridge the abstract and the concrete.
for government read the crown
for law read the bench
for command read flag
for war read the sword
for authorship read the pen
for democracy read the ballot box
for terrorism read the bullet
These are the metonymic cliches that we find in
"The powers of the crown,"
"the dignity and he authority of the bench"
"forces under the flag of General Popgun"
"the pen is mightier than the sword"
"they prefer the bullet to the ballot box"
Walter Nash. Rhetoric: The Wit of Persuasion. Cambridge USA: Blackwell, 1989, 122.
FROM GEORGE LAKOFF AND MARK JOHNSON
Metonymy: using one entity to refer to another entity that is related to it.
THE PART FOR THE WHOLE
The Giants need a stronger arm in right field.
Get your butt over here!
PRODUCER FOR PRODUCT
He's got a Picasso in his den.
I hate to read Heidegger.
OBJECT USED FOR USER
We need a better glove at third base.
The gun he hired wanted fifty grand.
CONTROLLER FOR CONTROLLED
Napoleon lost at Waterloo.
Nixon bombed Hanoi.
INSTITUTION FOR PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE
I don't approve of the government's actions.
Exxon has raised its prices again.
THE PLACE FOR THE INSTITUTION
Wall Street is in a panic.
The White House isn't saying anything.
THE PLACE FOR THE EVENT
It's been Grand Central Station here all day.
Remember the Alamo.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980 --pages 38 and 39
METONYMIES IN THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE NEW YORKER, ferreted out by Bloggin' John
The other day, I went hunting for metonymies in the pages (39-44) of The New Yorker's "The Talk of the Town," Nov. 2, 2009, written by Louis Menand, David Remnick, and Lizzie Widdicombe. Here's what I found:
The Talk of the Town
(Talk: THE PART FOR THE WHOLE)
(Town: THE PLACE FOR THE INSTITUTION)
(Town = THE PLACE FOR THE EVENT)
That is the voice of the fringe, and the fringe is exactly where you want the opposition to set up permanent shop.
(voice = THE PART FOR THE WHOLE)
One line of objection to the White House's effort to ostracize Fox News is that presidential wars against the press are always futile and self-defeating.
(White House = INSTITUTION FOR THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE)
(Fox News = INSTITUTION FOR THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE)
(the press = OBJECT FOR THE USER)
A self-fashioned "scholar-bluesman," [Cornel West] travels from lecture hall to church pulpit and on to Barnes & Noble, wearing a formal and elegant uniform — black suit, white shirt, French cuffs, black tie, black scarf.
(lecture hall, church pulpit = THE PLACE FOR THE INSTITUTION)
(Barnes & Noble = INSTITUTION FOR THE PEOPLE INVOLVED)
Of the many roles that West has played in the academy and the media lately, it's been his ongoing support-slash-critique of Barack Obama that is the most curious.
(the academy, the media = INSTITUTION FOR PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE)
"Who are the major victims of that? The poor—disproportionately black and brown and red." Quoting Cornel West.
(poor, black, brown, red = THE PART FOR THE WHOLE)
"Guy Lombardo can be nice on a certain night, but you're going to need Duke Ellington and Count Basie." Quoting Cornel West.
(Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Count Basie = CONTROLLER FOR CONTROLLED)
I [Rob Pruitt] love all the conventions: the red-carpet aspect, and the speeches, and the cameras catching the expressions of the people that didn't win."
(red-carpet, cameras = THE PART FOR THE WHOLE)