Thursday, 3 July 2014

Metonymy and Synecdoche. (Gosh)

Following yesterday’s post I have, predictably, been asked what the hell these two pompous-sounding things are when they’re at home.

Metonymy is when you put one thing for another, as in ‘I’m rather fond of the bottle’ when actually what I’m rather fond of is the stuff that comes in bottles.

Synecdoche is much the same thing, except that in this case one puts the part for the whole or the whole for the part. A badly-chosen synecdoche can be misleading; here is a letter of mine sent a couple of years ago to the London Review of books:

‘The day before the latest elections in Athens, the German tabloid Bild published an open letter’ writes Philip Oltermann. He will presumably be surprised to hear that in Greece, voting takes place not just in the capital but all over the country. Newspapers, the BBC, and the British public also imagine that Greece is Athens, and that if there are riots in Omonia Square Athens then there must also be riots in Dung Square Alonnisos. (Yes, there really is a Dung Square here, and no, it has seen no riots since 1944.) One result is that tourism, a major source of income for Greece and Greeks, is greatly reduced this year.

As for German complaints that they are filling Greek cash machines with Euros, what about Greece’s large gold reserves taken away by the Germans during the war? They are still in Germany: requests for their return are ignored, nor has any interest ever been paid.

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