the use of a word or phrase, when a part of something is used in order to refer to the whole of it. For example, you can use the word ‘wheels’ to mean a car.
Origin and usage
The word synecdoche comes from the Greek word ‘synekdokhe’ which means ‘putting a whole for a part’ or ‘a receiving together’. Its usage in English dates back to the 15th century, when it came to describe a figure of speech in which the part is taken for the whole, or vice versa.
Synecdoche is a noun that refers to a way of describing something by using just one of its parts. It can also be used in the opposite way, using a whole to describe one element.
Synecdoche is a common literary device, often used in writing as a means of describing things in a richer, more complex way. The use of synecdoche allows writers to give deeper meaning and seriousness to common ideas, thus attracting the attention of the reader. Synecdoche is also a way for writers to shorten otherwise lengthy descriptions without sacrificing vivid imagery or creativity.
There are many examples of synecdoche in literature, including those found in works by Shakespeare, Shelley, Swift and Coleridge.
For example, The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad contains the following synecdoche: “At midnight I went on deck, and to my mate’s great surprise put the ship round on the other tack. His terrible whiskers flitted round me in silent criticism.” The word ‘whiskers’ in that passage is a synecdoche, as it refers to the entire face of the man described by the narrator, not just his facial hair.
Synecdoche has also become common in everyday speech. Some popular examples include:
• Using ‘suit’ to refer to a businessperson
• Using ‘glasses’ to refer to spectacles