Synecdoche: Definition and Different Examples

Last Updated on May 15, 2023

What is synecdoche? There are many types of figurative language found when listening to spoken English or reading an English text. One of these types of language is called Synecdoche. But what exactly is synecdoche and how is it used? In this article, we are going to be looking at what synecdoche is and how it is used in both spoken language and as a literary device. We will also be looking at several examples of times in which synecdoche can be used in daily conversation and of times where it has been used in a written piece.

What Is Synecdoche?

Synecdoche Definition

Synecdoche is a type of figure of speech which is used very commonly in the English language. It is most simply described as replacing a whole with a part when referring to something such as an item, situation or place, amongst other things. A good example of this is that the alphabet may be referred to as ABCs.

Synecdoche can be used as a literary device in order to refer to a whole by just referencing a part of that thing. It is a way to both simplify and add complexity to a piece of writing depending on how you view it.

For example, when someone refers to a group of people as “all hands on deck,” they are using synecdoche, with “hands” representing the entire person. Similarly, when someone refers to a car as “wheels,” they are using synecdoche, with “wheels” representing the entire vehicle.

Synecdoche: History and Etymology

The term “synecdoche” comes from the Greek word “synekdoche,” which means “simultaneous understanding.” The use of synecdoche dates back to ancient Greek literature, where it was used to convey complex ideas in a concise manner.

Synecdoche vs. Metonymy

While synecdoche and metonymy are both figures of speech that involve using one word to represent another, there is a subtle difference between the two. In synecdoche, a part of something is used to represent the whole or vice versa. In metonymy, a word that is associated with something is used to represent it.

For example, when someone refers to the “crown” to mean the “king” or “queen,” they are using metonymy, with “crown” representing the entire monarchy. Similarly, when someone refers to “Hollywood” to mean the American film industry, they are using metonymy, with “Hollywood” representing the entire industry.

In conclusion, synecdoche is a powerful literary device that allows writers and speakers to convey complex ideas in a concise and memorable manner. It has been used throughout history in literature, poetry, and everyday language, and continues to be a valuable tool for communication today.

Synecdoche Examples

Synecdoche Examples in Literature

Synecdoche is a popular figure of speech in literature that helps to create vivid and memorable imagery. It is often used by writers to convey complex ideas in a concise and effective manner. This section will explore some examples of synecdoche in literature, including poetry and prose.

Examples in Poetry

Poets frequently use synecdoche to create powerful and evocative imagery. For instance, in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, the line “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” uses the word “spoons” to refer to the small moments that make up a person’s life. Similarly, in William Butler Yeats’ poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” the phrase “the artifice of eternity” uses the word “artifice” to refer to the entire concept of human civilization.

Examples in Prose

Synecdoche is also commonly used in prose, particularly in descriptions of characters and settings. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character of Gatsby is often referred to by his clothing, such as his “white flannel suit” or his “pink suit.” This use of clothing as a synecdoche for Gatsby’s character helps to establish his status as a wealthy and fashionable figure. Similarly, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the phrase “the heart of England” is used to refer to the city of London, using the heart as a synecdoche for the entire country.

Other examples of synecdoche in literature include:

  • “All hands on deck” (using “hands” to refer to the entire crew of a ship)
  • “Boots on the ground” (using “boots” to refer to soldiers)
  • “The White House announced today” (using “the White House” to refer to the entire US government)
  • “Threads of thought” (using “threads” to refer to ideas or concepts)
  • “A brilliant mind” (using “mind” to refer to the entire person)
  • “She has beautiful eyes” (using “eyes” to refer to the entire person)
  • “The container was filled with water” (using “container” to refer to the entire object)
  • “He is a brand name in the industry” (using “brand name” to refer to the entire person or company)
  • “Pass me a Kleenex” (using “Kleenex” to refer to any tissue)
  • “Put a Band-Aid on it” (using “Band-Aid” to refer to any adhesive bandage)

Overall, synecdoche is a powerful tool that writers can use to create memorable and impactful imagery in their work.

Synecdoche Examples in Society and Culture

Synecdoche is a literary device that has found its way into various aspects of society and culture. This section will explore some of the most common examples of synecdoche in politics, sports, and media.

Examples in Politics

In politics, synecdoche is frequently used to represent a larger group of people or a particular issue. A common example is the use of “boots on the ground” to refer to soldiers or military personnel. Similarly, the phrase “all hands on deck” is used to refer to the collective effort of a group of people.

Another example of synecdoche in politics is the use of “Pentagon” to refer to the United States Department of Defense. This synecdoche is used to represent the entire military establishment of the United States.

Examples in Sports

In sports, synecdoche is used to refer to a team or a particular player. For instance, the use of “Denver” to refer to the Denver Broncos football team is an example of synecdoche. Similarly, the use of a team’s mascot to refer to the entire team is another example of synecdoche in sports.

Examples in Media

In media, synecdoche is used to represent a larger concept or idea. For instance, the use of “lend me your ears” to refer to an audience or readership is an example of synecdoche in media. Similarly, the use of “Coke” to refer to all carbonated soft drinks is another example of synecdoche in media.

Another example of synecdoche in media is the use of “lead” to refer to the entire news story. This synecdoche is used to represent the most important aspect of the news story.

Overall, synecdoche is a powerful literary device that is used in various aspects of society and culture. Its ability to represent a larger concept or idea using a smaller entity makes it a valuable tool for writers and speakers alike.

Synecdoche Examples: Everyday Speech vs. Written Language

Examples of Synecdoche in Everyday Speech

The use of synecdoche is clearly apparent in day to day spoken English, it can be heard frequently in a variety of conversations. We are now going to look at examples of common forms of synecdoche that you are likely to hear in a conversation.

  • The term ‘bread and butter refers to all the things that one can buy with their wages, for example ‘he is out earning the bread and butter.’
  • He is a grey beard.‘ the term grey beard refers to an old man.
  • The word ‘suit‘ or ‘suits‘ refer to businessmen, for example ‘the suits are coming to do the yearly audit.’
  • When we hear the word ‘boots‘ it can often refer to soldiers, for example, ‘the boots are in battle.’
  • The word ‘coke‘ can refer to any brand of fizzy pop with a Coke Cola flavour, for example ‘I will have a coke.’
  • Spectacles can be referred to by their lenses when we use the word ‘glasses.’
  • The word ‘wheels‘ can refer to a whole car, for example ‘I have just brought a new set of wheels.
  • When we use the word ‘sails‘ we are talking about an entire ship, for example ‘he loved nothing more than spending time on the sails.’
  • Let’s have a glass of bubbly to celebrate.’ The term ‘bubbly‘ refers to champagne.
  • The term ‘hired hands‘ refers to the staff or workers, for example, ‘the hired hands completed the work in record time.’
  • The term ‘John Hancock’ can refer to a signature, for example, ‘can you put your John Hancock on this form please.’
  • The word ‘plastic‘ can be used to talk about a credit card, for example, ‘I will put this on my plastic.’
  • He loves to tickle the ivories‘ the word ‘ivories‘ refers to the piano because piano keys used to be made from ivory.
  • Cutlery is referred to as silverware, for example, ‘can you put the silverware on the table.’
  • Gossip is often referred to as ‘wagging tongues.’ For example, ‘the women are forever wagging tongues.’

Examples of Synecdoche in Written Language

In literature, we see many types of figurative language, and synecdoche is a good example of this. Writers will often use synecdoche in texts such as fictional stories, poems and songs. We are now going to take a look at some examples of times in which synecdoche has been used as a literary device.

  • In The rime of the ancient mariner written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge there is an example of synecdoche in the line ‘the western wave was in flame.’ He uses the term western wave to refer to the entire ocean.
  • In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, he uses an example of synecdoche in the line ‘the ever fixed mark’ with which he is referring to a lighthouse.
  • ‘The hand that mocked them.’ is a line from Ozymandius written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in which synecdoche is used by using the word hand to refer to the sculptor.
  • In The secret sharer written by Joseph Conrad, we can see a synecdoche example when he uses the word ‘whiskers’ to refer to the entire face of a character.
  • In The lady or the tiger by Frank R Stockton we can see an example of synecdoche when he uses the word faces to refer to people in the line ‘a sea of anxious faces looked at me.’
  • In T S Eliotts ‘The lovesong of Alfred Prucock’ we can see an example of synecdoche when he refers to people as their body parts. ‘Prepare your face to meet faces you will meet and have time for the works of hands.’
  • In the song ‘where are the arms’ by Gabriel Kahane, there is a good example of synecdoche in the title where the term ‘arms’ refers to the strength of a lover. He also uses the word ‘heart’ to refer to the lover as a whole.
  • We can see an example of synecdoche in the Holy Bible in the line ‘the feet that bring good news are beautiful.’ The feet is a reference to the person delivering the good news.
  • In the play Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare, we see an example of synecdoche is used when the word ‘ears’ is used to represent attention, the line reads ‘friends, countrymen and Romans, lend me your ears.’

Conclusion

In this article we have looked further into the meaning of synecdoche and how it can be used, by doing this we have discovered that this type of figure of speech uses a part of something to refer to the whole. This can be when talking about many things such as objects, concepts, places or people. Synecdoche is a very common type of figurative language and we can frequently see the use of it in both day to day conversation and within written works in literature.

Synecdoche Infographic

Synecdoche Pin

FAQs on Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a literary device that is often used in writing to create vivid imagery or to make complex topics more concise and memorable. Here are some frequently asked questions about synecdoche.

What is synecdoche?

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole or the whole is used to represent a part. For example, “all hands on deck” uses the word “hands” to represent the entire crew of a ship. Another example is “wheels” used to represent a car.

What is the difference between synecdoche and metonymy?

Both synecdoche and metonymy use substitution to create more engaging writing. Synecdoche substitutes a part for a whole, while metonymy substitutes a related object, concept, or idea. For example, “the pen is mightier than the sword” uses “pen” to represent the power of writing, while “the crown” is used to represent the power of a monarch.

How is synecdoche used in literature?

Synecdoche is a versatile literary device, and writers use it for many reasons. Often synecdoches can elevate language, making a sentence or phrase sound more interesting or more poetic. Synecdoches can also help the writer create a strong voice for a character or for a narrator. For example, in “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the phrase “old sport” to represent the upper-class society that the character Jay Gatsby aspires to be a part of.

Can synecdoche be used in everyday language?

Yes, synecdoche is often used in everyday language. For example, “lend me your ears” uses “ears” to represent the attention of the listener. Another example is “I need a hand” which uses “hand” to represent help or assistance.

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