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Metonyms anyone?

Rosie Right

Every now and then there is a discussion of whether to say chairman, chairwoman or just plain chair for the person who presides over a meeting. Especially for this reason, Rosie was interested in a discussion she found on Michael Quinion's Internet site World Wide Words Quinion responded to the following question:

"Can you tell me whether the words synecdoche and metonym mean the same thing?"

The answer: "Both are figures of speech used in rhetoric. They're not the same thing, though metonymy is often interpreted so widely that synecdoche can be regarded as a special cast of it.

"Let's take synecdoche first... .You use this when you speak of a part of something but mean the whole thing. When Patrick O'Brian has Captain Jack Aubrey tell his first lieutenant to 'let the hands go to dinner' he's employing synecdoche, because he's using a part (the hand) for the whole man. You can also reverse the whole and the part, so using a word for something when you mean part of it. This often comes up in sport: a commentator might say that 'The West Indies has lost to England' when he means that the West Indian team has lost to the English one …. Metonymy is similar, but uses something more generally or loosely associated with a concept to stand in for it. When Americans speak of the Oval Office, for example, they are really referring to the activity within it, the position or function of the President. It's a linked term, and so a metonym. British writers refer similarly to the Crown, when they're really discussing the powers, authority and responsibilities of the monarchy, which is symbolized by the crown. The difference between synecdoche and metonymy is that in metonymy the word you employ is linked to the concept you are really talking about, but isn't actually a part of it. Another example is `the turf' for horse racing. But the distinction isn't always obvious and often can't be rigorously applied, and many people use metonymy to mean both."

Rosie agrees that the distinction is not always obvious, and she is happy that the Associated Press has made a rule about chairman, chairwoman and chair. AP says use chairman or chairwoman and never chairperson. Chair was not even mentioned.

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