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The synecdoche usually serves one of two main purposes. The first is to simply provide a shorthand way of talking about common events. For example, when one talks about a sports team, one might just use the synecdoche of the city name itself, instead of writing out the full name of the team in question. The second purpose of the synecdoche is to call special attention to a specific aspect or quality of the object as a whole. 

Definition of synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole, the whole for a part, the species for the genus, the genus for the species, or the name of the material for the thing made. Closely related to acronyms, synecdoches are used in speech and writing for the convenience of the speaker and listeners who are familiar with the specific topic. Synecdoche also uses larger groups to refer to smaller groups, or vice versa. Synecdoche is closely related to metonymy, and is important for creating vivid imagery in writin and speech. The word “synecdoche” is derived from the Greek word synekdochē, meaning “sense,” “understand” and “seem good.” Its first known use was in the 15th century.


Synecdoche examples abound in colloquial language and casual conversation; following are some common examples.

Use of the word “bread” in place of “money”. Example: “I am the sole breadwinner in my household.”

Use of the words “gray beard” in place of “old man.” Example: “That gray beard over there sent you a cocktail.”

Use of the word “Pentagon” to refer to a specific group of U.S. government decision-makers. Example: “The Pentagon would prefer that we did not wage all-out war at this time.”

Use of the word “coke” to refer to all carbonated drinks. 

Examples of synecdoche in literature are also quite common; see the following examples:

“The western wave was all a-flame.

The day was well nigh done!

Almost upon the western wave

Rested the broad bright Sun.”

In this passage from the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is using “western wave” to refer to the ocean by calling it by one of its parts only.

Uses of synecdoche

Synecdoche is used in poetry and prose consistently. Similar to another literary device- the dysphemism, a negative substitute of a word, synecdoches are used to allow phrases to flow evenly with one another. Below are some examples from Percy Bysshe Shelly, T.S. Eliot, and Joseph Conrad.

“Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them.”

In this passage, “the hand” refers to the sculptor himself by referring to one of his physical attributes.

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

In The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock by T. S. Eliot, the poet uses “pair of ragged claws” to symbolize a crab. Synecdoche can be used as a form of symbolism, which is used heavily in poetry.

“At midnight I went on deck, and to my mate’s great surprise put the ship round on the other tack. His terrible whiskers fitted round me in silent criticism.”

Joseph Conrad is conveying the negative expression on his mate’s face by using the descriptor “terrible whiskers fitted round me.”

Many different career and academic disciplines contain their own commonly-used synecdoches, often used to make communication about consistent topics easier among those in the know. For example, in the sciences, “DNA” is often used to refer to “life,” and the species of a plant, animal, or object is used to refer to its genus. In this case, examples would be “creature” for “person,”; “cutthroat” for “killer;” “milk” for “cow’s milk;”, or “Kleenex” for “tissue.” 

Examples in which synecdoche is used by referring to an object or thing by the material it’s made from are: “Willow” for a cricket bat; “boards” for an auditorium stage; “ivories” for piano keys; or “plastic” for a credit card.

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