Metonymy & Friends

Creative Writers enjoy using figurative language. Probably the most common may be similes and metaphors. In my opinion, these are the easiest. That may have something to do with their abundant use (and sometime overuse).

Consider using figures of speech that demonstrate relationships. In other words, a figure where a word or phrase is used in place of a noun, and this replacement has a certain relationship or association with the noun it replaces. The three most common types are metonymy, synecdoche, and kennings.


The most frequent of the relative figures of speech is Metonymy. Sometimes the association may be geographical or reference to some place, building, or area. Americans may refer to the White House when referring to the U.S. government, just as Russians may speak of the Kremlin when addressing the Russian government. Other countries may speak of the crown for the king, or we may mention the bench when referring to the court, even the ruling a judge. And if you have ever said The pen is mightier than the sword,” you have used a pair of Metonymies: the pen stands the written word (specifically, the ideas than may be communicated by what is written) and the word represents military prowess.


Sometimes people refer to Metonymy when it is actually a Synecdoche in use. Synecdoche is where a part refers to the whole. Marc Anthony asked of his audience, “Lend me your ears.” We may say every eye is on someone, or my hands are full. Here ears, eyes, and hands refer to the function of these body parts. For example, ears as a means of understanding, eyes as a means of deliberation, and hands for a person’s industry. Consider a boat. One may refer to the propulsion as the oars, the direction as its prow, and the vessel itself as the keel.


This is a rare figure, and one I like to use, even though I do not feel as if I use it very well. It is more difficult than it seems. Kennings are of Scandinavian origin. They are two words paired up to replace one. For example, the ocean may be a whale path, or a boat may be a tide colt. There is also a Celtic variety where several words make up the phrase. A field may be a sea filled with daisies, and a garden might be the realm of cruciforms. These may sound awkward, but when used in a bit of prose or poetry, it works well when done well.

If you are tired of using like or as, and if you are all metaphored out, try some of these relational figures for a change. You should begin with practices and exercises so that the figures are not so labored when utilized.


1 Comment

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One response to “Metonymy & Friends

  1. Hi,Neal –
    Sometimes the line becomes blurry between kennings and metaphor. If you use a metaphor without inserting a verb, I think it’s usually a kenning, so you may use them more often and with greater skill than you think! Anyhow, to synecdoche, a poem:

    wrinkled knuckles rumpled bills
    ruched cuff longing for jimmy stewart
    thank you have a good one

    silken milk chocolate with raspberry tips
    pinches a $20 like tissue
    thank you have a good one

    veinous hand in white cuff
    protrudes tonguelike from grey pinstripes
    thank you have a good –
    how was the traffic in jersey
    bet your bmw is nice and quiet
    yes thank you bye

    gold metal sits window scrolls down
    illustration of a girl’s chin and t-shirt
    pocketbook snaps sorry for the delay it’s ok miss
    thank you have a good one

    bass throbs from a hundred yards
    security glass lowers, dude asks how much
    two dollars where you from sir
    DC not the comics she thinks
    thank you have a good one

    hand like hers weighed down with $2
    gold curls splay against the invisible divide
    eyes meet furrows lighten
    thank you, hon, rest easy, OK?

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