Metonymy – Rhetorical stylistic devices

What is a metonymy? (Definition)

Related imageMetonymy is a stylistic device that belongs to the tropics . As with all tropics, the terms used are replaced by others. The improper objects are in immediate, real proximity to the intended ones. The limit of the intended object is thus shifted.

What are tropics?

Tropics is the generic term for a number of stylistic devices . In a trope (also: Tropus) is always an improper and pictorial expression. The meaning is not directly formulated, but replaced by another linguistic phrase. This comes either from the immediate vicinity or from another area of ​​imagination. It is used to make what is said more vivid and lively or to decorate a speech.

The term derives from the Greek tropos = turn . Even in Greek antiquity, tropics were popular as a means of rhetoric or stylistics. They were separated from each other and individually defined. The tropics include allegory , antonomatism, emphasis, euphemism , hyperbole , irony , catachesis (dead metaphor), Litotes , Metalepse, metaphor , metonymy, periphrase, personification , riddles, sarcasm, and synekdoche .

The term derives from the Greek metonymia = name swap (from meta = to and onyma = name).


  • ” The mustache comes in.” – Instead of a man who enters the room, only his mustache is called. Part of him replaces the whole man.
  • ” The left corner, please.” – When a teacher calls a student like that, it does not mean the corner. Instead of the space content, the room is called.
  • “Let’s have a drink.” – It’s not the vessel, it’s the content, like beer or wine.

Relationship and differences to the metaphor

Metonymy is closely related to the metaphor. In metaphor, the picture is based on a comparability of different spheres of meaning. In the metaphor , the original and the new word are thus in a relationship of similarity .

A metaphor for …

  • Stupidity: donkey
  • dying: going home or falling asleep
  • be in love: have spring fever

A metonymy for …

  • Stupidity: brainlessness
  • die: go to the grave
  • be in love: have weak knees

Unlike the metaphor, metonyms therefore do not search for the substitute word in a different sphere than the source word. Instead, a metonymy replaces the source word with a term that is in a real relationship to it. This relationship can be temporal, spatial or logical. The initial word and the substitute word can originate from the same world of experience and belong to the material, sensible reality.


    Political journalism is sometimes called the “White House” when referring to the US President or the US government. Because the President of the United States resides with his family in the White House in Washington, there is a concrete spatial relationship between source word and replacement word.

Original and new concepts in metonymy are therefore related to each other (contiguity).

Possible affiliation relationships

Image result for writingThe type of membership of output word and replacement word can be further specified and classified. Linguists distinguish numerous groups of contexts according to the pattern: “X stands for Y”. The transitions between the groups are occasionally fluid, as are the transitions to the metaphor.

1. person stands for thing / content:


  • “Our teacher wants us to read Schiller.” (Schiller = Schiller’s books or works)
  • »He knows the Beatles like no one else« (the Beatles = the music of the Beatles)

2nd place stands for person (s):


  • »Brazil play Portugal.« (Brazil = Brazilian player / team, Portugal = Portuguese player / team)
  • “Rome chooses a new government.” (Rome = the citizens of Rome)

3. Time stands for person (s):


  • »The Renaissance rediscovered the cultural achievements of Greek and Roman antiquity.« (Renaissance = renaissance artists, artists of the Renaissance)
  • “The post-war period did not care about the traumatized, but was busy with the reconstruction.” (Post-war period = people of the post-war period, survivors of the war)

4. Vessel stands for content:


  • “He devoured his plate greedily.” (Plate = meal, meal)
  • “She drinks two cups every afternoon.” (Two cups = two cups of coffee)

5. Deity stands for its attributed properties and functions:


  • “Gaia will soon be completely destroyed.” (Gaia = Greek goddess of the earth, thus stands for the planet Earth)
  • “Fortuna was well-intentioned to the athlete.” (Fortuna = Roman goddess of fortune and fortune, so in the example of luck and success)

6th episode stands for cause:


  • “Pale death” (not death is pale, but the dead)
  • “The pale fear” (not the fear is pale, but the fearful)

7. Cause is the result:


  • »The sun illuminates the hall.« (Sun = light of the sun)
  • »Winter causes heating costs to rise again« (winter = cold)

8. Abstract is concretum:


  • ” Young people are hardly interested in classical literature anymore.” (Youth = young people)
  • »The good taste is at home in France« (the good taste = people with good taste)

9. Material represents subject:


  • “I prefer to wear wool rather than cotton.” (Wool or cotton = wool or cotton clothing)
  • “He read the paper in peace.” (Paper = writing)

Part 10 stands for the whole (Latin: Pars pro toto):


  • “A 100-soul village” (soul = person or inhabitant)
  • »He counted 70 Lenze« (Lenz = year)

Delimitation to Synekdoche

The synekdoche is also a trope. She is closely related to metonymy. The transitions are flowing. A clear demarcation is often not possible. The Synekdoche also denotes a special membership relationship between the output word and the replacement word. The replacement word always has the same conceptual content in Synekdoche.

Within the term field, a distinction is made according to the scope . Therefore, “Pars pro toto” (see above) can also be considered as a form of synekdoche. Sometimes this improper figure of speech, in which a part stands for the whole, is even referred to as an independent stylistic device.


  • »At home five hungry mouths are waiting for him.« (Maul = child)
  • “Give us our daily bread today.” (Bread = food, means of life)