Metonymies are frequently used in literature and in everyday speech. A metonymy is a word or phrase that is used to stand in for another word. Sometimes a metonymy is chosen because it is a well-known characteristic of the word.
One famous example of metonymy is the saying, "The pen is mightier than the sword," which originally came from Edward Bulwer Lytton's play Richelieu. This sentence has two examples of metonymy:
The "pen" stands in for "the written word."
The "sword" stands in for "military aggression and force."
Metonymy: Stand-Ins for Other Words
A Word Functioning as a Metonymy
Understanding the context of a metonymy is important. For example, the word "pen" is not always standing in for the written word; often, it just refers to the physical object of a pen.
The examples below include both the metonymy and the possible words for which the metonymy would fill in:
Crown - in place of a royal person
The White House - in place of the President or others who work there
The suits - in place of business people
Dish - for an entire plate of food
Cup - for a mug
The Pentagon - to refer to the staff
The restaurant - to refer to the staff
Ears - for giving attention ("Lend me your ears!" from Mark Antony in Julius Caesar)
Eyes - for sight
The library - for the staff or the books
Pen - for the written word
Sword - for military might
Silver fox - for an attractive older man
Hand - for help
The name of a country - used in place of the government, economy, etc.
The name of a church - used in place of its individual members
The name of a sports team - used in place of its individual members
While these word examples provide a good example of what a metonymy is and how it functions, sentence examples will further help to explain the use of this figure of speech.
Sentences Using a Metonymy
These sentences will further enhance your appreciation and understanding of metonymies. The metonymy is underlined.
We must wait to hear from the crown until we make any further decisions.
The White House will be announcing the decision around noon today.
If we do not fill out the forms properly, the suits will be after us shortly.
She's planning to serve the dish early in the evening.
The cup is quite tasty.
The Pentagon will be revealing the decision later on in the morning.
The restaurant has been acting quite rude lately.
Learn how to use your eyes properly!
The library has been very helpful to the students this morning.
That individual is quite the silver fox.
Can you please give me a hand carrying this box up the stairs?
The United States will be delivering the new product to us very soon.
Saint Thomas will be coming to the soup kitchen to help out next Sunday after Mass.
The Yankees have been throwing the ball really well, and they have been hitting better than they have been in the past few seasons.
Purpose of a Metonymy
As with other literary devices, one of the main purposes of using a metonymy is to add flavor to the writing. Instead of just repeatedly saying, "the staff at the restaurant" or naming all of the elements of a dinner each time you want to refer to the meal, one word breaks up some of that awkwardness.
Using a metonymy serves a double purpose - it breaks up any awkwardness of repeating the same phrase over and over and it changes the wording to make the sentence more interesting.