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What is synecdoche?

A synecdoche is a figure of speech that refers to a certain part of something to actually mean the whole. It, of course, metaphorically means reference to the ‘whole’ by merely mentioning the ‘part’. 

Synecdoche is used in a similar sense as metonymy, that’s another figure of speech that uses a related or associated thing to refer to another concept (like using the word ‘suits’ to mean businessmen). The difference between the two is, of course, the fact that synecdoche means the whole by the part, in particular, and not generally any associated thing. 

The purpose is to be used as a rhetorical device, to sound more relatable, casual, effortless and colloquial in order to connect with the audience in the best way possible. It’s an extremely useful device that could be impregnated with interesting implicit meanings.

Some of the examples could be as follows: 

  1. Asking for someone’s hand could mean asking for their ‘entire self’ in marriage.

  1. Substituting the word people for simply heads instead - e.g. they charged $350 per head meaning $350 for one person.

  1. GHOST: Now, Hamlet, hear.

‘Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,

A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark

Is by a forgèd process of my death

Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth,

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life

Now wears his crown (Hamlet, Shakespeare)

In this sense, the ‘the whole ear of Denmark’ basically means the entire population of Denmark who had heard the story of the brutality.

  1. To hire hands means to hire entire workers for a particular to be done, so a particular part of the men is used as a metaphor for the entirety of them

  1. To work hard for the bread and butter means to earn and work to arrange for the food of one self (or his/her family/loved ones); some part of the food is meant to refer to the entire concept of food.

  1. The word has been released from the White House can have an interesting meaning, where the ‘word’ means an entire statement (like an entire set of words) and the ‘White House’ means the government of the United States and not the White House building.

Synecdoche is an interesting device that has been used throughout time in the form of poetry, prose, fictional/non-fictional literature, as well as, verbal communication to give the words a deeper touch.

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