Delicacy for teachers!


By Nadine Fouché-Karsten

Have you noticed how people say the word bottle used to actually go to the contents of the bottle to refer, as in The baby drinks his bottle; or how eye for detail is used instead of fine touch for detailas in She has an eye for detail?

When you replace words like this, you create links between things around you: between the bottle and its contents, or between the ability to identify fine detail and the part of the human being, the eye, which perceives the fine detail. These links are reflected in their language. You show other people how you make sense of the concepts around you.

In other words, you use every day metonymy, because you use the name of one entity to refer to another entity related to it (Lakoff & Johnson 1980:35). Put another way: You name a certain case or entity not directly, but indirectly (Nordquist 2018).

This is something that is by no means new. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary date the term metonymy as far back as the 1560s where it is borrowed from the French “metonymy”, which is traced back to Late Latin “metonymia” from the Greek “metōnumia” (μετωνυμίᾱ). The latter consists of “meta” (meaning ‘change’) and “onuma” (meaning ‘name’). This term therefore means ‘change of name’. And isn’t that exactly what one does? It makes sense that Lawrence et al. (2013) in Afrikaans methodology through new glasses the synonym renaming proposal.

This brings me to the focus of this blog:

  • Where does metonymy fit within the subject Afrikaans Home Language?
  • What is its function?
  • What is the relationship between metonymy and synecdoche?

Metonymy in education

At school level, metonymy is associated with the analysis of literary texts. It is considered a species style figure which evokes a particular image (compare for example Platinum Afrikaans Home Language Grade 12 Learner’s Book from Vosloo et al. 2013).(i) One of the first examples of metonymy in writing that I can think of is surely the use of Crown to refer to the emperor in the drama, The emperor: COURT JERK: Just walk pants over the shoulder and shoes in hand, me Crown. Apparently getting too hot. This use of metonymy is effective, because kings (and emperors) wear crowns, and this very image is evoked.

As already with my example out The Emperor has been shown, metonymy is used, among other things, to evoke a particular image. It enables writers to more creative with language (MasterClass 2021).

The use of metonymy can also words more powerful make. According to MasterClass (2021), the use of metonymy increases the complexity of even the simplest words, because they acquire a symbolic value. Consider the ever-popular example, The pen is mightier than the sword. Two examples of metonymy occur in this, namely the pen and the sword. These two clauses stand for the written word and military powerand thereby acquires a symbolic meaning.

From the same example we can conclude that the use of metonymy contributes to more concise language (compare Yamasaki 2023). Also consider the following quote from Elisabeth Eybers’ poem, “Two toddlers in a fond park”:

Promoted from kick bike to pedal bike,
moped to car, he will state
– the wheel his sign – that he member
is from the collective Lilliput.

Eybers explains how the boy turns into a young man whose status is determined by the type of car he drives. Instead of writing: he becomes part of the little ones in societyshe uses the shorter part of the sentence, the metonym: the collective Lilliputwhich refers to the fictional island in the novel Gulliver’s Travels of Jonathan Swift inhabited by tiny people. Although here we are talking about people who are literally small, she uses the reference to this in a figurative way (compare LiteraryDevices 2013).

Nordquist (2018) also suggests that metonymy promotes cohesion and coherence. Two related concepts (such as pen and the written word) are referred to together by means of one word – the promotion of cohesion is illustrated by this. Consequently, one does not have to move between these two concepts – the promotion of coherence is illustrated by this.

Synecdoche as a form of metonymy

When a plan needs to be devised, one tends to say: We have to put our heads together. When I hear someone say that, I really don’t think of a scene The Addams Family where a bunch of heads sit around a table and argue about a matter! I immediately understand that a lot of people have to help think together and that the word head (a part) is used to refer to people (a whole). I also understand that the head contains the brain, which is strongly associated with the estimation of plans and that this is the reason why head used in such an expression.

We are dealing here with a stylistic figure where a word that appears on a part of something indicates, is used to refer to a larger whole; or a word that a whole indicates, is used to refer to a part of something (Merriam-Webster; Nordquist 2018). Synecdoche is at issue here, although the term partial nomination also used (compare Lawrence et al. 2013). Two more examples of synecdoche are:

  • In My phone is dead become phone (a whole) used, while actually only the battery (a part) that is flat is referred to. Here, therefore, there is talk of a whole-part relationship.
  • In The meal is R220 per headbecomes head (a part) used, while man (a whole) is in question. The whole person goes to the meal useful. This is therefore a part-whole relationship.

Because synecdoche, just like metonymy, uses a lexical item within a specific domain to refer to another entity within the same domain, the tendency is to regard synecdoche as a subdivision of metonymy. Johnson and Lakoff (1980:36) regard synecdoche as a special category of metonymy. This is also a view that is reflected in some school textbooks. In other words, although synecdoche is rightly treated as a separate literary phenomenon in educational sources, it is indeed a way of achieving metonymy.

The question is why one uses synecdoche. In an example like to win someone’s heart (out Piekfyn Afrikaans Home Language Learner’s Book Grade 9) becomes heart, as a part of a person, used to refer to a person. After all, you don’t just want to win his heart! But why be heart then used? To indicate the meaningful, emotional connection between the persons. The phrase therefore wants a definite association call. The author is looking for much more than a physical connection.

In addition, synecdoche can do something symbolize. The use of heart in this particular example symbolizes that when you win someone’s heart, you win their love and trust, as well as convince them to commit to the relationship.

Especially when synecdoche refers to a part of a larger whole, this part that is highlighted can be a emphasis function have. In The soldier ate lead (out Linguistics for the middle school) becomes lead used, where it is part of a gun, precisely to indicate the way in which the person concerned was injured. An additional example of this is I need an extra pair of hands where hands used to refer to a person whose help is needed. The reason why hands be used, and not for example head as in one of our previous examples, is that hands strongly associated with the part of the human being that performs physical activities.

May this information help many people when treating Elisabeth Eybers or the like. (I hope you identify the use of metonymy in the preceding sentence…) In the next blog, antonomasia is scrutinized, because it is often difficult to distinguish from metonymy.

VivA greetings
Nadine Fouché-Karsten

  • This blog is proudly sponsored by the AONtwerk.

Source list

Betts, J. 2021. Examples of metonymy: Understanding its meaning and use. Date accessed: 7 July 2023.

Kapp, S. 2019. 40 Ways Writers Create Kick – Rhetorical Devices. Date of access: 7 July 2023.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 1980. Metaphors we live at. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

LiteraryDevices Editors. 2013. Metonymy. Date of access: July 7, 2023.

MasterClass. 2021. What Is Metonymy? Definition, examples, and uses of metonymy in writing. Date of access: 6 July 2023.

Merriam-Webster. n.d Usage notes on synecdoche and metonymy. When you’re left to your own rhetorical devices. Date accessed: July 7, 2023.

Nordquist, R. 2018. What Is Metonymy? Date of Access: 6 July 2023.

Pilon, S. 2023, 17 Jan. Metonymy (Podcast). Date of access: 5 July 2023.

Yamasaki. P. 2023. Metonymy: How to use this literary device. Date accessed: 6 July 2023.

(i) In other sources, metonymy is also associated with the production of written texts, but these are not necessarily called “figures of style”, but rather rhetorical devices, i.e. techniques that the speaker or writer uses to convey the message as efficiently as possible to the listener or reader. to transfer (compare Kapp 2019).