Definition of Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to signify the whole, or vice-versa. In fact, it’s derived from the Greek word synekdoche: “simultaneous meaning.” As a literary device, synecdoche allows for a smaller component of something to stand in for the larger whole, in a rhetorical manner. Synecdoche can work in the opposite direction as well, in which the larger whole stands in for a smaller component of something. Synecdoche is a helpful device for writers to express a word or idea in a different way by using an aspect of that word or idea. This allows for variation of expression and produces an effect for the reader.

For example, a common synecdoche for proposing marriage is to ask for a person’s “hand.” This is a figure of speech in the sense that asking for someone’s hand is for effect, not intended literally. The “hand” in this example of synecdoche is the part that signifies the whole person receiving the marriage proposal, and reflects the symbolic placement of a wedding ring. As a literary device, synecdoche is a means for writers to avoid overusing words or phrases and creating an artistic form of expression.

Common Examples of Synecdoche

Here are some examples of synecdoche that may be found in everyday expression:

  • The White House (signifies the U.S. president or executive branch)
  • The Pentagon (signifies U.S. military leaders)
  • England (signifies Great Britain)
  • Boots on the ground (signifies soldiers)
  • Paper or plastic (signifies type of shopping bag)
  • Suits (signifies people in business)
  • Wheels (signifies a vehicle)
  • Hit the sheets (signifies getting into bed)

Examples of Synecdoche as Character Names

Fictional characters often feature synecdoche as their name to indicate an aspect or part of them that signifies their nature as a whole. These names can be meant in a genuine or ironic way. Here are some examples:

  • The Brain (Alan from children’s television series “Arthur”)
  • Fang (Hagrid’s dog from “Harry Potter” series)
  • Hot Lips (Margaret Houlihan from “M*A*S*H”)
  • Whiskers (cat from “Toy Story”)
  • Spot (dog from “Dick and Jane”)
  • Freckles twinkle toes

Famous Examples of Synecdoche

Think you haven’t heard of any famous synecdoche? Here are some well-known and recognizable examples of this figure of speech:

Difference Between Synecdoche and Metonymy

Writing Synecdoche

Examples of Synecdoche in Literature

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