What is metonymy


The metonymy is a rhetorical style figure. It replaces the actually intended word with another and thus creates an image. The substitute word comes from the same sphere of meaning as the term intended.

What is a metonymy? (Definition)

Metonymy is a stylistic device that belongs to the tropics. As with all tropics, the terms meant are replaced by others. The improper objects are in direct, real proximity to the ones actually intended. The boundary of the intended object is thus shifted.

The term is derived from the Greek. metonymia = Name exchange (from meta = after and onyma = Name).

  • »The mustache come in. ”- Instead of a man entering the room, only his mustache is mentioned. Part of him replaces the whole man.
  • »The left corner please. ”- When a teacher calls out to a student like this, the corner is not meant. Instead of the volume of the room, the room is named.
  • "Let us a glass go for a drink. «- You don't mean the vessel, but the contents, for example beer or wine.

Relationship and differences to the metaphor

The metonymy is closely related to the metaphor. In the metaphor, the image is based on the comparability of different spheres of meaning. Original and new word are at the metaphor so in one Relationship of similarity to each other.

  • Stupidity: donkey
  • to die: go home or fall asleep
  • to be in love: to feel like spring
  • Stupidity: mindlessness
  • to die: to go to the grave
  • to be in love: to have weak knees

In contrast to metaphors, metonymies do not look for the substitute word in a sphere other than that of the original word. Instead, it replaces a metonymy the initial word by a term that leads to this in a real relationship stands. This relationship can be temporal, spatial or logical. The starting word and the substitute word can come from the same world of experience and belong to the material reality that can be experienced through the senses.

    In political journalism it is sometimes called the "White House" when talking about the US President or the US government. Because the President of the United States resides with his family in the White House in Washington, there is a specific spatial relationship between the starting word and the substitute word.

In metonymy, the original and the new term are in one Relationship of belonging (Contiguity) to each other.

Possible affiliation relationships

The type of association between the source word and the substitute word can be further specified and classified. Linguists differentiate between numerous groups of relationships according to the following pattern: "X stands for Y". The transitions between the groups - as well as the transitions to metaphor - are occasionally fluid.

1. Person stands for thing / content:

  • "Our teacher wants us to read Schiller." (Schiller = Schiller's books or works)
  • "He knows the Beatles like no other." (the Beatles = the music of the Beatles)

2. Place stands for person (s):

  • "Brazil is playing against Portugal." (Brazil = Brazilian players / team, Portugal = Portuguese players / team)
  • "Rome elects a new government." (Rome = the citizens of Rome)

3. Time stands for person (s):

  • "The Renaissance rediscovered the cultural achievements of Greek and Roman antiquity." (Renaissance = people of the Renaissance, artists of the Renaissance)
  • "The post-war period did not care about the traumatized, but was busy with the reconstruction." (Post-war period = people of the post-war period, survivors of the war)

4. Vessel stands for content:

  • "He devoured the plate greedily." (Plate = meal, food)
  • "She drinks two cups every afternoon." (two cups = two cups of coffee)

5. Deity stands for the properties and functions ascribed to it:

  • "Gaia will soon be completely destroyed." (Gaia = Greek goddess of the earth, so stands for the planet earth)
  • "Fortuna was kind to the athlete." (Fortuna = Roman goddess of luck and fate, so stands in the example for luck and success)

6th episode stands for cause:

  • "Pale death" (not death is pale, but the dead)
  • "The pale fear" (not the fear is pale, but the fearful)

7. Cause stands for consequence:

  • "The sun illuminates the hall." (Sun = light of the sun)
  • "Winter is causing heating costs to rise again." (Winter = cold)

8. The abstract stands for concrete:

  • "The youth are hardly interested in classical literature anymore." (Youth = young people)
  • "Good taste is at home in France." (the good taste = people with good taste)

9. Material stands for object:

  • "I prefer wool to cotton." (Wool or cotton = clothing made of wool or cotton)
  • "He read through the paper in peace." (Paper = document)

10th part stands for the whole (lat .: pars pro toto):

  • »A village of 100 souls« (Soul = person or resident)
  • "He counted 70 Lenze" (Spring = year)

Delimitation from the synecdoche

The Synecdoche is also a trope. It is closely related to metonymy. The transitions are fluid. A clear demarcation is often not possible. The synecdoche also denotes a special relationship between the starting word and the substitute word. The substitute word has at the synecdoche always the same conceptual content.

Within the term field, after the scope differentiated. Therefore “Pars pro toto” (see above) can also be seen as a form of the synecdoche. Sometimes this improper figure of speech, in which one part stands for the whole, is even referred to as an independent stylistic device.

  • "There are five hungry mouths waiting for him at home." (Mouth = child)
  • "Give us today our daily bread." (Bread = food, means of life)
Page published on 03/20/2018. Last updated on September 3rd, 2020.