Daniel T. Richards

Daniel T. Richards

Digital Strategist. Rhetorician. All Around Swell Guy.

[Figure Friday] Metonymy: The “Don’t Be Literal” Figure

Friends, Romans, countrymen…keep your ears. Just give me your attention.

Metonymy (meh-TAHN-uh-me) [trope] – Referring to a thing by a related concept.

EvanThe Patriots didn’t look so great in their first game. [Instead of individual players]
Vinney: All of them?
Evan: Well, not every single one. I was using metonymy.
Vinney: Watch your mouth! [Instead of language]
Evan: Exactly.

We use metonymy all the time. And we all have friends who think they’re funny by taking it literally:

Waiter: The quail is our finest dish. [Instead of entrée.]
Annoying friend: Are you sure? Dishes aren’t very tasty!
Waiter: How droll.

Don’t be that guy. This is definitely a figure not to take literally.

Also don’t confuse metonymy with metaphor. While metaphors try to show similarities between two concepts, metonyms don’t require any similarity at all.

The White House‘s ISIS strategy is still unclear. [Instead of President Obama]

When we refer to the actions of the president as coming from “the White House,” we’re not saying that Barack Obama looks like a building in Washington, DC.

Metonyms are most effective when they’re unexpected, since many of the common metonyms are now clichés. Try to be creative!

Why do we love bacon? Because science. [Instead of evolutionary biology & nutrition]

Just try to be more creative than me. Happy persuading!

[Figure Friday is a weekly series wherein I take a look at a new figure of speech and show you how to use it to your rhetorical advantage. And I’ll feature a new “Stick Figure of Speech.”]