Term of Art: Metonymy

“A figure of speech which designates something by the name of something associated with it: the Crown substituting for monarchy, the stage for the theater, No. 10 Downing Street for the British Prime Minister, the White House for the US president. A word used metonymically (crown, as above) is a metonym. Metonymy is closely related to and sometimes hard to distinguish from metaphor. It has sometimes been seen as a kind of synecdoche and sometimes as containing synecdoche. Both metaphor and metonymy express association, metaphor through comparison, metonymy through contiguity and possession. Many standard items of vocabulary are metonymic. A red-letter day is important, like the feast days marked in red on church calendars. The work redcap (a porter) originally referred to a piece of red flannel tied for visibility around the caps of baggage carriers at New York’s Grand Central Station. On the level of slang, a redneck is a stereotypical member of the white rural working class in the Southern US, originally a reference to necks sunburned from working in the fields.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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