Authors are talking about synecdoche

This term refers to figurative language: metaphors, similes, personification, etc. It’s when the writer uses a part of the whole of something to refer to a specific object. It is commonly known that if you tell someone to check out your new wheels, they’re referring to the car as a whole. The wheels, a part of the car, represents the whole.

Using synecdoche is an interesting way to transform an everyday term into something thought-provoking.

This is a clear way for the author to draw attention to the power of associative and referential thinking, Sometimes synecdoches gets mistaken with another figurative language device, metonymy.

Synecdoche should not be confused with metonymy as they are vastly different.

The difference being:

  • synecdoche uses a ‘part of the whole’
  • metonymy finds ‘another term’ to replace it with.

Metonymy is when referring to the Queen of England as the crown. Crowns are related to royalty, but they not a part of the royal personages.

  1. When Canadians speak of the House of Commons, they are really referring to the activity within it, the position, or function of the Prime Minister.

Synecdoche is when referring to boots on the ground. Or champagne referred to as bubbly. More examples representing a whole.

  1. A handful of quarters, dimes, and pennies is ‘change’ needed to pay the parking meter.
  2. If it’s said, ‘the restaurant’ was lovely, a person was likely referring to the food, the atmosphere, or the waiter/waitress.
  3. When someone complains that ‘the world’ is not treating them well, they’ve not really encountered the entire world, just the part of the world in which they are living.
  4. The word ‘police’  means a single officer or perhaps two policemen, but not the entire police force.
  5. ‘The Pentagon’ makes decisions: referring to a few generals, not everyone in the building.
  6. People say, the New Yorker’ printed a new story, when a specific journalist wrote it.

Synecdoche in literature

1. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the ghost of Hamlet’s father implies Claudius killed him.

He said, “So the whole ear of Denmark is by a forged process of my death rankly abused.”

This implies that the whole population of Denmark has heard about his death.

2. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, refers to Gatsby as an “Oxford man.”

He’s referring to someone who has attended the English university,

symbolizing a person of a certain class, wealth, and learning.

3. Toni Morrison uses a fantastic synecdoche in Beloved when she writes:

“This is the flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feel that need to

rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms

I’m telling you.” She’s referring to parts of the body that have their own needs,

while also talking about the importance of community and the value of life.

Synecdoche simplifies collections of parts,

using the whole,

and emphasizes certain aspects of the whole,

using its most important parts.