Language would be raw and boring without numerous figures of speech. They transform a simple sentence in something new – the utterance stops being just a set of words, but it gets undertone and let us find implications to understand the meaning fully. One of the most commonly used figures of speech is metonymy.
This term has ancient Greek roots, and literally the word “μετονυμία” is translated as “renaming”.
What does metonymy mean? First of all, metonymy is a figure of speech which is used to “color” the sentence. In which way? We use the characteristic feature of an object or the name of the other thing associated with the object instead of the objects real name. For example: He likes reading Shakespeare. Of course, we understand that the person likes reading not the very writer but his poems.
Actually, we are so used to metonymy that we even do not notice it in everyday life. For example, you’d rather heard “The lecture hall listened to the lecturer” instead of “People in the lecture hall..”.
That is. The words are similar, and the concept is the same, but it sounds differently. Laconic and to some extent more poetic.
It’s really easy to define metonymy in literature if you have seen examples of it’s usage.
In his “Julius Caesar” William Shakespeare writes “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” It’s pretty clear that Mark Anthony doesn’t need organs of people he is addressing to, he just asks for attention.
“But now my oat proceeds,
And listens to the herald of the sea
That came in Neptune’s plea,
He asked the waves, and asked the felon winds,
What hard mishap hath doomed this gentle swain?”
Here the word “oat” represents a musical instrument made of oat stalk. John Milton’s usage of metonymy makes the sentence much more literary colorful.