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The English language is full of figures of speech that are used in one way to imply something else. These phrases or words are what beautify the English language, and gives it its rich feel. However, sometimes these figures of speech may get a little confusing, and one such figure of speech that is often confused with another is metonymy and synecdoche. The debate between the two has been brewing for quite some time now, and given below is an article that will help put all your doubts related to this confusion to rest.

What is Metonymy?

Metonymy definition entails using the name of one particular thing being replaced by the name of something that is closely associated with it. In Greek, it literally means 'a change of name'. Thus, it actually stands for a transmutation or a misnomer. This figure of speech helps to indirectly refer to something. Like, in Julius Caesar, when Mark Antony, after the death of Caesar addresses the people of Rome as "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears", he means he wants people to listen to what he has to say. Given below are a few more metonymy examples, which will help clear your doubts regarding the subject.

WordActual MeaningMetonymic Usage
SweatPerspirationTo work hard towards something
HollywoodA section of Los AngelesThe American film industry
Wall StreetA street in lower Manhattan in New YorkThe American financial and banking industry
Madison AvenueAn avenue running the length of Manhattan Island in New YorkThe American advertising industry
BroadwayAn avenue running the length of Manhattan Island in New York cityThe live theater in New York
The White HouseThe official President's residence in Washington D.C.The U.S. President, his staff, representatives, and close advisors
The PentagonA large government office building in Arlington, VirginiaThe United States department of Defense
Downing StreetA street in the city of WestminsterThe British Prime minister's office
WestminsterA city in Greater LondonThe UK Government
New Scotland YardA Building in London which is the headquarters of the Metropolitan PoliceMetropolitan police

What is Synecdoche?

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a word or term is used to refer to a whole thing or effect, a part of it, or a specific class of things related to that word. In Greek, it originally means accepting a part as responsible for whole or vice versa. This figure of speech is closely related to metonymy, in fact, synecdoche is sometimes considered to be its subclass. Given below are a few examples.
  • Referring to a characteristic of a person for the person itself, like 'the gray beard' for an old person.
  • Describing a vehicle as 'wheels'.
  • He has many mouths to feed.
  • There are so many pairs of hands working there.
  • All eyes were on him.
  • Using the term 'bug' for any kind of insect or small creature.
  • Using 'John Hancock' for the signature of any person.
  • Using a well-known generic term for a certain related thing, like calling any kind of cola 'Coke'.
  • Saying 'lead' for bullets, 'plastic' for credit cards, 'willow' for cricket bat, etc.
What's the Difference?

As has been stated above, synecdoche can be said to be a sub-class or a special case of metonymy. They both are similar to each other, but metonymy is generally used to refer to a concept that is loosely associated with the main word. Any linked term that has a wider reference than usual, can be said to be a metonymy. However, this is not that case with synecdoche. Here, you speak for a part of a thing or subject, indirectly implying the entire thing itself. You do not use it to refer to related subjects or objects. Thus, metonymy is actually a special case of synecdoche, and not the other way round.

Now that you've understood the difference between these two figures of speech, go ahead and use them without hesitation.