Synecdoche (sə-nek-də-kē"), which is derived from the Greek synekdoche and translated to "simultaneous comprehension", is a literary device that utilizes a part of an object or the entire object to represent some part of the whole object. This trope can function in many ways as a literary device. It can allow larger groups to represent smaller ones or vice versa. For instance, an object can be identified by the material it is made with or by the material it is packaged in (Mulvey 165).
Relation to Metonymy
Although synecdoche and metonymy are similar, they each have marked differences when applied to or used with words. To begin with, a person must note that there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding defining metonymy and categorizing words as metonymical. Most definitions are vague, thereby giving the confusing implication that any word can reflect metonymy if used in the right context. In Hugh Bredin's article “Metonymy,” he supplies a general definition of the term that states “metonymy is the transfer of the name of a thing to something else that is closely associated with it - such as cause and effect, container and contained, possessor and possessed, and so on; for example, "crown" or "throne" for monarchy” (45). Bredin asserts that such a definition is an “enumeration of instances” that poorly explains the exact function of metonymical words. The one aspect that all critics agree upon in regards to metonymy is that synecdoche is its relative. More specifically, synecdoche is a subsection of metonymy. In order to distinguish between metonymy and synecdoche, a person must examine the context of the words used in a given sentence.
Similarities and Differences
According to Bredin, “Synecdochic relations are structural, and metonymical relations are extrinsic – relations, in the one case, between particulars and their parts, and in the other case between particulars and other particulars” (54). While synecdoche focuses on intra-relativity (the relation of the whole and its parts), metonymy focuses on extra-relativity (the mind's association with a word). More specifically, "Every metonymy is a synecdoche, but not every synecdoche is a metonymy. This rule is true because a metonymy must not only be a part of the root word, making a synecdoche, but also be a unique attribute of or associated with the root word" (Modugno 9). For example, when referring to a car a person may call it their "wheels." The mention of a specific part of the car makes the reference a synecdoche. If the person were to refer to the same vehicle as their "ride," then the car reference would become a metonymy.
Examples of Metonymy
The "White House", the "Kremlin", and "Downing Street" can be used to represent the governments of the United States of America, Russia, and Great Britain, respectively.
"Hollywood" for the American film industry.
"Five coin piece" for nickel.
Examples of Synecdoche
In Popular Culture and Society
"Pittsburgh beat Baltimore by a score of forty-three to twenty-three." The words "Pittsburgh" and "Baltimore" refer to the respective football teams that represent their cities, the Steelers and the Ravens. A person associates the Steelers with Pittsburgh and the Ravens with Baltimore.
"Wheels" for a car.
"I gave him a Pepsi." The word "Pepsi" represents the aluminum can containing the soda.
"I'm out of bullets, give me another magazine." "Magazine" represents the container that holds the bullets the soldier needs for his firearm.
"Threads" for clothing.
"Mouths to feed" for people to feed.
William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears..." are the opening words of Mark Antony's famous speech during Act three, scene two of the play. The "parts of a whole" connection comes from the ears that are part of the whole human body. Antony does not plea for his countrymen's physical ears; rather, he requires what they represent: their attention and their minds.