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Literature Glossary

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Metonymy

Definition:

Metonymy is a scary word for a not-so-scary concept. It's just a type of metaphor in which an object is used to describe something that's closely related to it. So, for example, when you're talking about the power of a king, you might say "the crown," instead. The crown is the physical object that is usually associated with royalty and power.

In fact, once you get used to the concept, you'll spot metonymy just about everywhere:

  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • (The pen refers to writing, the sword to fighting.)
  • The White House declined to comment. (The White House refers to the President's staff, not the actual White House. We're pretty sure that's just a building.)
  • This team needs some new blood. (Um, gross? We're not talking about blood here, of course—just new team members.)
  • Wall Street is all atwitter with the latest financial gossip. (Can a street be atwitter? Certainly not. But the folks who work there can.)

The key here is that metonymy is an example of figurative language. Shmoop certainly wouldn't want to bring a pen to a swordfight. But we are more than willing to fight violence with words. That's what the Good Guys do, right?

For a more poetic example, check out metonymy in "The Seafarer."

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