Discovering Synecdoche

I want a coke.

I’ve learned a new word: Synecdoche.

Synecdoche is a word that’s both fun to pronounce and understand. The Greek word it comes from means “simultaneous understanding”. In english it is a figure of speech expressed in several ways. Basically, a synecdoche occurs when the word for a part is used to refer to the whole and vice versa. Think of the Three Musketeers slogan, “All for one, and one for all”… sort of.

In certain parts of the southern United States, you may here the phrase, “I want a coke.” Depending on the context, the word coke in this phrase can mean any carbonated soft drink, while Coke is also a specific brand of carbonated soft drink. I could be wrong, but I think this is an example of synecdoche. More examples I came up with:

  • Everyone is doing it.
    • Literal meaning: All people are doing it.
    • Intended meaning: A large group people I know are doing it.
    • The term for the whole, Everyone, is actually referring to certain part of itself, a large group of people.
  • Do you prefer Mac or PC?
    • Literal meaning: Do you prefer Mac or Personal Computers?
    • Intended meaning: Do you prefer Mac hardware & software made by Apple, or hardware from other companies with Windows software?
    • The term for the whole, PC, is actually referring to certain part of itself, hardware from other companies with Windows software. Macs are also Personal Computers by definition, this one gets tricky.

I also found some biblical synecdoches that were enlightening. Depending on how they are translated, certain scriptures using synecdoche can have very different meanings, or at least emphasis.


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