Nice set of wheels you got there—
August 30, 2009 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Is the use of meronym and synecdoche the same thing? If not, please illustrate. I am confused.
posted by whimsicalnymph to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I could be completely wrong, but -

It's my understanding that a meronym is simply a word which refers to part of a whole, while synecdoche refers to a word which, while part of the whole, is used to refer to the whole itself.

Very good question.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:51 PM on August 30, 2009

I think they are different.

Here are two sources from Trask.

"In meronymy, one word denotes a part of another. For example, hand is a meronym of arm, and boths words are meronyms of body." Source: Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics by Trask.

"In a synechdoche, we use the name of a part to represent a whole, or vice versa. So, a football team representing France can be referred to with the name of the whole nation: a part denoted by the whole. An example of a whole denote by a part is the nautical cry All hands on Deck! Here the sea captain does not literally expect to see a collection of severed hands on his deck: he expects to see all the men in his crew, intact and ready to work." Source: Language: The basics by Trask
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 6:54 PM on August 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

My understanding is that they are not the same thing. In the example of your title, "wheels" is a synecdoche of a car. You are using a part, the wheels, to signify the whole of the car. A synecdoche is a figure of speech.

A meronym, on the other hand, is not a figure of speech. Rather it is a way to talk about a part of a whole. A wheel is a part of a car, so a wheel would be meronym of a car. In this case you aren't using the word "wheel" as a figure of speech to mean "car".
posted by ephemerista at 6:56 PM on August 30, 2009

Synechdoche is a figure of speech that intends you to infer the holonym from the meronym. A meronym on its own does not intend that.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:56 PM on August 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

A meronym is simply a part of a whole. A finger is part of a hand, A sailor is part of a group of men and women on a ship, the White House is part of the architectural layout of Washington, D.C.

Synecdoche is where the part stands in for the whole. If I say "All hands on deck," it refers to hands, yes, but the "hands" mean the crew. If you hear a reporter on television saying "The White House said today that they are not convening 'Death Panels'" it doesn't mean that the building itself said anything, being an inanimate object; rather, the Executive Branch / The President is being referred to.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:59 PM on August 30, 2009

So your title could be either a synechdoche (you bought a new car), or a meronym (you bought a new set of wheels for your car).
Synechdoche is figurative; meronym is literal.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:00 PM on August 30, 2009

Here's how you remember:

Synecdoche... sounds like sin-NECK-doh-kee. A neck is a part of a person. If you say "neck" when you mean the whole person, you're using synecdoche.

That just leaves metonyms, which use something not a part of a person to refer to the whole person.
posted by prefpara at 7:43 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Nice set of wheels" is synecdoche; you are using the part for the whole as a figure of speech.

"Wheels" is also a meronym of "car"; if you said "I went to get my car checked out, and it turned out there was something wrong with the wheels" you could describe the latter clause as meronymic. As others have said, meronyms are not figures of speech, but rather terms used in sentence-level analysis.

There is a figure of speech called "metonym"; a "metonym" is where an associated word or phrase is used as shorthand for another entity, as in "The White House stated today" or, less commonly, "Her main problem was the bottle" (as obviously it was the alcohol inside).
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:07 PM on August 30, 2009

Hey guys — the OP is asking about meRonymy, not meTonymy. Don't confuse him further, eh?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2009

Sorry. Don't confuse her further.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2009

Weapons-grade up there has it. Meronymy is a relationship between words (or concepts); "wheel" would be a meronym of "car" regardless of whether or not anyone had ever used the word "wheels" to refer to a car. Synechdoche is the specific rhetorical act of using a meronym to refer to its holonym.

One way to make poetic synechdoches might be to find meronym/holonym pairs that aren't commonly used in synechdoche. As in: "Hey, nice bumper you got there."
posted by aparrish at 8:29 PM on August 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

ephemerista: "A meronym, on the other hand, is not a figure of speech. "

That sentence is five kinds of awesome.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:29 PM on August 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

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