The Meanings of Words – Synecdoche

Synecdoche. What a wonderful word!

Someone mentioned the film, ‘Synecdoche, New York’ to me the other day. I’d never heard of it. I’d never heard the word synecdoche either so (as it was such a tantalising word) I decided to look it up – of course.

That’s what we writers and readers do because we want to extend our repertoire of words and understanding.

The best definition I found was on Wikipedia.

What is it?

It is a noun; a linguistic term.

Wikipedia defines it thus:

Synecdoche is a rhetorical trope and a type of figurative speech similar to metonymy, a figure of speech in which a term that denotes one thing is used to refer to a related thing.[4][5] Indeed, synecdoche is sometimes considered a subclass of metonymy. It is more distantly related to other figures of speech, such as metaphor.[6]


I hope you’re keeping up – it’s OK, I had trouble as well.

Some examples are helpfully given to try and make it easier (which it does when you start reading them):

  • Describing a complete vehicle as “wheels”
  • “The pill” is commonly used to refer to a birth-control pill
  • A “Rube Goldberg (or Heath Robinson) contraption” to refer to any machine which seems overly complicated or bizarrely constructed
  • “glasses” for spectacles
  • “keg” for a keg of beer

Did you get what the picture on this page meant?

I had to sell my wheels, we’ve got too many mouths to feed is two uses of synecdoche: sell my wheels and mouths to feed.

We all know that the word wheels refers to a car – not just any old wheels – and we know mouths to feed refers to feeding people – not feeding the mouth.

Put together as a whole, we also know that you’re having to sell your car because it’s too expensive to run when you have a family, a house, bills to pay.

How common is synecdoche?

I’ll let you decide that one. Keep your ears open for what words people use that refer to something related to the thing they are meaning rather than using the word for the thing itself (e.g. plastic = credit card). Phew!

Don’t forget to listen to yourself too.

And the film?

I still haven’t found out what the film is about.


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