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Title: Synecdoche  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Figure of speech, Pars pro toto, Tadhg, Rhetoric, Semantic change
Collection: Figures of Speech, Rhetoric, Synecdoche, Tropes by Type
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A synecdoche (, ; from Greek συνεκδοχή synekdoche, meaning "simultaneous understanding"[1]) is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something, or vice versa.[2]

A synecdoche is a class of metonymy, often by means of either mentioning a part for the whole, or conversely the whole for one of its parts. Examples from everyday English-language idiomatic expressions include "bread and butter" for "livelihood", "suits" for "businessmen", "boots" for "soldiers", etc.[3] It is also often used in government announcements where a building stands in for a government official or agency, such as "No. 10" or "No. 10 Downing Street," the address of same, being used to represent the British Prime Minister, or "The Pentagon," the building housing its headquarters, to represent the United States Department of Defense.


  • Definition 1
  • Classification 2
  • Examples 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


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.[4][5] Indeed, synecdoche is sometimes considered a subclass of metonymy. It is more distantly related to other figures of speech, such as metaphor.[6]

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,[7] 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.


Synecdoche is often used as a type of [8]

The two main types of synecdoche are microcosms and macrocosms. A microcosm is when a part of something is used to refer to the entirety.[9] An example of this would be someone saying that they “need a hand" with a project, when they really need the entire person.[10] A macrocosm is the opposite, when the entire structure of something is used to refer to a small part.[11] An example of this could be referring to "the world", when the speaker really means a certain country or part of the world.[12] The figure of speech is divided into the image (what the speaker uses to refer to something) and the subject (what is being referred to).

This type of reference is quite common in American politics. For example, when an official spokesperson for the United States Department of Defense makes an announcement, the Department's headquarters building itself is credited for it, e.g. "The Pentagon announced new figures on combat deaths," while the executive mansion itself is often credited for statements made by a spokesperson of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, e.g., "The White House announced a new plan to reduce hunger." But not just America; references to the King or Queen of England are often made in the same fashion by referring to their official residence, Buckingham Palace, and the Prime Minister is often referred to by his or her official address, number 10 Downing Street.

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.

Insults often assign a body part to a person. A weak man may be called a "pussy," a slang name for the female genitals, even though men do not have them. An insulting, undesirable, irritating or annoying person may be referred to as an "asshole," probably due to its considered dirtiness. In the United States a woman, and in Europe a man or a woman, may be denigrated by calling them a "cunt." A worthless or contemptible man may be referred to as a "dick," a slang word for a penis, although the term "dick." as used to refer to a person has a non-insulting, non-synedoche use as slang for a detective, such as in the W. C. Fields motion picture The Bank Dick.. The equivalent word "prick" or the Yiddish language term "schmuck" are also used as insults in place of "dick."

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.[13] Moreover, catching the attention of an audience with advertising is often referred to by advertisers as "getting eyeballs", another synecdoche.[14] 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 more accurately, a sports team from the city was victorious.[14]

Kenneth Burke (1945) 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.[15] He described 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".[16] In addition, Burke suggests that synecdoche patterns can include reversible pairs such as disease-cure.[17] 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".[17] Burke also compared synecdoche with the concept of "representation", especially in the political sense, where an elected representatives stand in pars pro toto for their electorate.[15]


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 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.[18]

  • "Ivories" for a piano, by a complex of synecdoches: the piano designated by the part, its keys, and the keys are traditionally made of ivory.
A general class name used to denote a specific member of that or an associated class
  • "Wiki" for "WorldHeritage"
  • "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".)
A specific class name that refers to a general set of associated things
The material that a thing is (actually, historically, or supposedly) made of referring to that thing
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
  • "in one's cups", a simple expression making use of a complex of metaphors: under the influence of alcohol, as described as having drunk a liquid sometimes contained in cups

See also


  1. ^ from the verb ἐκδέχομαι "to take or receive from another" (simplex δέχομαι "to receive"). "συνεκ-δοχή , ἡ, A. understanding one thing with another: hence in Rhet., synecdoche, an indirect mode of expression, when the whole is put for a part or vice versa, A Greek-English Lexicon. revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1940.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary- synecdoche,  . Definition of Synecdoche, St. Edward's University. Synecdoche - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
  3. ^ Examples of Synecdoche from day to day life
  4. ^ Glossary of Rhetorical Terms, University of Kentucky
  5. ^ Jakobson, Roman & Morris Halle (1956). Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton. p. 95.  
  6. ^ Figurative Language- language using figures of speech, University of West Georgia
  7. ^ 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.  
  8. ^ Political Metaphors:
  9. ^ Burke, Kenneth. The Kenyon Review. Vol. 1. Gambier: Kenyon College, n.d. 426. New Ser. Vol. 32. Jstor. Ithaka. Web.
  10. ^ Enelow, David. "The Four Master Tropes." Untitled Document. Head-Royce School, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
  11. ^ Burke, Kenneth. The Kenyon Review. Vol. 1. Gambier: Kenyon College, n.d. 426. New Ser. Vol. 32. Jstor. Ithaka. Web.
  12. ^ Enelow, David. "The Four Master Tropes." Untitled Document. Head-Royce School, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2014. .
  13. ^ Chandler, Daniel, Semiotics: the Basics. Routledge, New York, 2007. (132-133):,%20162;&f=false
  14. ^ a b Synecdoche: The Art of Getting Eyeballs, Liz Bureman:
  15. ^ a b Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall. p. 503. 
  16. ^ Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall. pp. 507–508. 
  17. ^ a b Burke, Kenneth (1945). A Grammar of Motives. New York: Prentice Hall. p. 508. 
  18. ^ Stephen Greenblatt et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume D, 9th edition (Norton, 2012)

Further reading

  • Monateri, Pier Giuseppe (1958). La Sineddoche. Formule e regole nel diritto delle obbligazioni e dei contratti. Milano: Giuffré. 

External links

  • Synecdoche from Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric
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