Super Bowl Trivia: Synecdoche or metonymy

It’s Super Bowl weekend, so time to look at the most famous (perhaps) sports literary device: the synecdoche!

Literary devices are a lot of fun. We see them everywhere, not just in poetry. Writers use these phrases to create imagery, or to add fun into their writing. We seem to use figurative language and literary devices when we express our emotions, or when we are trying to make someone else understand our ideas or experiences. There’s something about evoking the imagination that we as humans love.

Some of my favourite literary devices are synecdoche and metonymy, but synecdoche and metonymy are closely related, and often hard to tell apart. I think that these devices show up a lot in our everyday lives, more than similes and metaphors. Yet, similes are the ones we recognize the easiest because of the words or phrases used with them (like a wrecking ball, faster than a cheetah). Synecdoche and metonymy are tricky to spell and say, so I think we don’t teach them early to students for those reasons. So what are examples of synecdoche and metonym?

They show up everywhere! Hamilton made it to the Grey Cup several times the last five years. Kansas City is headed to the Super Bowl. Calgary lost the game in the last minute. The suits say we need to tighten our belts. It’s all hands on deck for tonight’s restaurant opening. We’d like a bite to eat. The strings come in loud in the second bar. I offered her my hand in marriage. We have a lot of mouths to feed. I’m reading Atwood at school.

See…they are everywhere! We use them, hear them, and read them every day. They become common. But because synecdoche and metonymy are so closely related, it’s hard at times to tell them apart. Even I have to think it through, and sometimes I still can’t decide. So here are some definitions and examples to help sort it out (hopefully).

Synecdoche: it means that a part of something represents the whole, or that a whole is used to represent a part. I think that’s why this one is confusing: it has two meanings. For example, the phrase “offer your hand in marriage” is a synecdoche because the part hand represents the whole person and his or her life. My new wheels are very fast! Or do you mean your new car? Interesting. Hamilton won the Grey Cup. It’s my wish, but it’s also a great example of synecdoche. Hamilton in this case represents the Hamilton Tiger Cats football team, not the entire city of Hamilton. The world is against me. Nope…but it feels like specific things in your life might be conspiring against you, yet the entire world is not against you (I hope). The restaurant on the corner or 17th Ave is fabulous. Or do you really mean the food and the service at that restaurant is fabulous?

So synecdoche: parts (hand, wheels) to represent a whole, and the whole (Hamilton, the world, the restaurant) to represent a part. But sometimes an example of metonymy can also be a synecdoche. Yep.

Metonymy: it means that an attribute of a thing is used to replace the thing, or that a linked or connected word stands for something or an idea. My favourite example is from Julius Ceasar (and lines that I had to memorize in Grade 10 English): “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.” Antony isn’t asking the people for their actual ears, he was asking for their attention and to listen, something you do with your ears. This dish is so delicious. Not the actual plate, but the specific food put together on that plate. My family is a fan of the crown. There’s not a specific crown, but instead this means that my family likes and is interested in the British royal family. Ottawa decided to cut spending. Okay, not the entire city and all it’s residents, but the elected officials in the House of Commons.

Metonymy is fun, because you, as the writer, can replace all kinds of words or phrases with related concepts or words. The possibilities are endless and fun. It’s almost like an insider’s guessing game at times, so be careful that your audience will understand all of your references!

So these everyday phrases we use and hear, now you know what they are! Impress someone at your virtual Super Bowl party this weekend.