Metonymy or Metronomy (play /mɨˈtɒnɨmi/ mi-tonn-ə-mee) [1] is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept. For instance, "Hollywood" is used as a metonym (an instance of metonymy) for American cinema, because of the fame and cultural identity of Hollywood, a district of Los Angeles, California as the historical center of movie studios and movie stars. Another example is "Westminster," which is used as a metonym for the Parliament of the United Kingdom, because it is located there.

The words "metonymy" and "metonym" come from the Greek: μετωνυμία, metōnymía, "a change of name", from μετά, metá, "after, beyond" and -ωνυμία, -ōnymía, a suffix used to name figures of speech, from ὄνῠμα, ónyma or ὄνομα, ónoma, "name."[2] Metonymy also may be instructively contrasted with metaphor. Both figures involve the substitution of one term for another. In metaphor, this substitution is based on some specific similarity, whereas, in metonymy, the substitution is based on some understood association (contiguity).


Cognitive science and linguistics for metaphor and metonymy

Metonymy works by the contiguity (association) between two concepts, whereas metaphor works by the similarity between them. When people use metonymy, they do not typically wish to transfer qualities from one referent to another as they do with metaphor: there is nothing press-like about reporters or crown-like about a monarch, but "the press" and "the crown" are both common metonyms.

Two examples using the term "fishing" help clarify the distinction.[3] The phrase "to fish pearls" uses metonymy, drawing from "fishing" the idea of taking things from the ocean. What is carried across from "fishing fish" to "fishing pearls" is the domain of metonymy.

In contrast, the metaphorical phrase "fishing for information" transfers the concept of fishing into a new domain. If someone is "fishing" for information, we do not imagine that the person is anywhere near the ocean; rather, we transpose elements of the action of fishing (waiting, hoping to catch something that cannot be seen, probing) into a new domain (a conversation). Thus, metonymy works by calling up a domain of use and an array of associations (in the example above, boats, the ocean, gathering life from the sea), whereas metaphor picks a target set of meanings and transfers them to a new domain of use.


Sometimes, metaphor and metonymy may both be at work in the same figure of speech, or one could interpret a phrase metaphorically or metonymically. For example, the phrase "lend me your ear" could be analyzed in a number of ways. One could imagine the following interpretations:

  • Analyze "ear" metonymically first — "ear" means "attention" (because we use ears to pay attention to someone's speech). Now, when we hear the phrase "lending an ear (attention)", we stretch the base meaning of "lend" (to let someone borrow an object) to include the "lending" of non-material things (attention), but, beyond this slight extension of the verb, no metaphor is at work.
  • Imagine the whole phrase literally — imagine that the speaker literally borrows the listener's ear as a physical object (and the person's head with it). Then the speaker has temporary possession of the listener's ear, so the listener has granted the speaker temporary control over what the listener hears. We then interpret the phrase "lend me your ear" metaphorically to mean that the speaker wants the listener to grant the speaker temporary control over what the listener hears.
  • First, analyze the verb phrase "lend me your ear" metaphorically to mean "turn your ear in my direction", since we know that, literally, lending a body part is nonsensical. Then, analyze the motion of ears metonymically — we associate "turning ears" with "paying attention", which is what the speaker wants the listeners to do.

It is difficult to say which of the above analyses most closely represents the way a listener interprets the expression, and it is possible that the phrase is analysed in different ways by different listeners, or even by one and the same listener at different times. Regardless, all three analyses yield the same interpretation; thus, metaphor and metonymy, though quite different in their mechanism, may work together seamlessly. For further analysis of idioms in which metaphor and metonymy work together, including an example very similar to the one given here, read this article entitled Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast.[4]


The concept of metonymy also informs the nature of polysemy, i.e., how the same phonological form (word) has different semantic mappings (meanings). If the two meanings are unrelated, as in the word pen meaning both writing instrument and enclosure, they are considered homonyms.

Within logical polysemies, a large class of mappings may be considered to be a case of metonymic transfer (e.g., chicken for the animal, as well as its meat; crown for the object, as well as the institution). Other cases wherein the meaning is polysemous, however, may turn out to be more metaphorical, e.g., eye as in the eye of the needle.

Rhetorical strategy

Metonymy also may refer to the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly, by referring to things contiguous to it, in either time or space. For example, in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, the main character Elizabeth's change of heart and love for her suitor, Mr. Darcy, is first revealed when she sees his house:

They gradually ascended for half-a-mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.

Austen describes the house and Elizabeth's admiration for the estate at length as an indirect way of describing her feelings for Mr. Darcy. One could attempt to read this as an extended metaphor, but such a reading would break down as one tried to find a way to map the elements of her description (rising ground, swollen river) directly to attributes of her suitor. Furthermore, an extended metaphor typically highlights the author's ingenuity by maintaining an unlikely similarity to an unusual degree of detail.

In this description, on the other hand, although there are many elements of the description that we could transfer directly from the grounds to the suitor (natural beauty, lack of artifice), Austen is emphasizing the consistency of the domain of use rather than stretching to make a fresh comparison: each of the things she describes she associates with Darcy, and in the end we feel that Darcy is as beautiful as the place to which he is compared and that he belongs within it. Metonymy of this kind, thus, helps define a person or thing through a set of mutually reinforcing associations rather than through a comparison.

Advertising frequently uses this kind of metonymy, putting a product in close proximity to something desirable in order to make an indirect association that would seem crass if made with a direct comparison.


Synecdoche, wherein a specific part of something is used to refer to the whole, usually is understood as a specific kind of metonymy. Sometimes, however, people make an absolute distinction between a metonym and a synecdoche, treating metonymy as different from, rather than inclusive of, synecdoche. There is a similar problem with the use of simile and metaphor.

When the distinction is made, it is the following: when "A" is used to refer to "B", it is a synecdoche if A is a component of B and a metonym if A is commonly associated with B, but not part of its whole.

Thus, "The White House said" would be a metonymy for the president and his staff, because the White House (A) is not part of the president nor of his staff (B), but is closely associated with them. On the other hand, "20,000 hungry mouths to feed" is a synecdoche because mouths (A) are a part of the people (B) referred to.

One example of a simple sentence that displays synecdoche, metaphor, and metonymy is: "Fifty keels ploughed the deep", where "keels" is the synecdoche, as it names the whole (the ship) after a particular part (of the ship); "ploughed" is the metaphor, as it substitutes the concept of ploughing a field for moving through the ocean; and "the deep" is the metonym, as "depth" is an attribute associated with the ocean.


word literal meaning metonymic use
drinking consuming a liquid consuming alcohol
word a unit of language a promise (to give/keep/break one's word); a conversation (to have a word with)
sweat perspiration hard work
heater a device that creates heat a firearm
tongue oral muscle a language or dialect
the press printing press the news media
Houston largest city in the state of Texas NASA Mission Control (for which the call sign is "Houston")
Annapolis the capital of the state of Maryland the United States Naval Academy, which is located there
Detroit the largest city in Michigan the American automotive industry
Hollywood a district of Los Angeles the American film & television industry
The Kremlin A fortified construction in historic cities of Russia and the Soviet Union The Government of Russia or the Moscow Kremlin
Langley an unincorporated community in Virginia The Central Intelligence Agency
Washington the capital city of the United States the government of the United States
Ottawa the capital city of Canada the government of Canada
Queen's Park a large urban park in Toronto the Government of Ontario
Canberra the capital city of Australia the Federal government of Australia
Islamabad capital city of Pakistan The Government of Pakistan
Wall Street a street in Lower Manhattan, New York City the American financial and banking industry
Bay Street a street in Downtown Toronto the Canadian financial and banking industry, or the major Canadian corporate law firms
K Street a street in Washington, D.C. the U.S. lobbying industry
Madison Avenue an avenue running the length of Manhattan Island in New York City the American advertising industry
Broadway an avenue running the length of Manhattan Island in New York City the live theater district of New York
The Hill a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C. and the physical location of the United States Congress the legislative branch of the federal government
The White House the official Presidential residence in Washington, D.C. the U.S. President, his staff and close advisors
The Pentagon a large government office building in Arlington, Virginia the United States Department of Defense, the United States Secretary of Defense, and high-ranking military officials, all based in the building
Foggy Bottom A neighborhood in Washington, D.C. the US Department of State
St. George A street (St. George Street) and a station on the Toronto Subway University of Toronto (main campus), used to differentiate from the other two satellite campuses (Scarborough and Mississauga)
Downing Street A street in the City of Westminster, on which is located No. 10, the official residence of the UK Prime Minister The British Prime Minister's Office
Scotland Yard A (historic) London street, on which the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police was located Metropolitan Police
The Crown A monarch's headwear the legal embodiment of executive government
The Palace Buckingham Palace the monarch's office
Westminster A City in Greater London the UK Parliament, which is located there
Whitehall A street in the City of Westminster, the headquarters of the British Civil Service and various Governmental Departments the British Civil service or a Government Department
Holyrood An area of Edinburgh, the location of the Scottish Parliament since 2004 The Scottish Parliament (but not usually the Scottish Government, which is located at St. Andrews House)
Fleet Street A street in London, formerly the location of many of the British national newspapers the British press, particularly newspapers
The Vatican The Vatican City State The Pope and Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church
Redmond A city in King County, Washington, US Microsoft Corporation
Cupertino A suburban city in Santa Clara County, California, US Apple Inc
Brussels The capital city of Belgium and seat of the European Union The European Union
Frankenstein Scientist (fictional character in Mary Shelley novel) who gives life to a creature Frankenstein's monster
Schengen[5][6] a village and commune in Luxembourg on the Moselle River Schengen Agreement, Schengen Area, Schengen Information System
Stormont An estate in Belfast Previously the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and now the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, which are located there
Zhongnanhai Two small lakes in a compound west of the Forbidden City in Central Beijing Central headquarters of the Communist Party of China and the State Council of the People's Republic of China
Silicon Valley Nickname for the section of the San Francisco Bay area that is home to many high-tech corporations The American computer and electronics industry
bench the seat where judges in a trial sit The judiciary
PDX International airport code for the Portland, Oregon International Airport The city of Portland, Oregon
Turtle Bay A neighborhood in New York City , on the east side of Midtown Manhattan United Nations Headquarters
Salt Lake City Capital of the state of Utah Headquarters of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints


Metalepsis and metonymy are closely related. Much as synecdoche, it is understood as a specific kind of metonymy.

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ Welsh, Alfred Hux; James Mickleborough Greenwood (1893). Studies in English Grammar: A Comprehensive Course for Grammar Schools, High Schools, and Academies. New York City: Silver Burdett. p. 222. 
  3. ^ example drawn from Dirven, 1996
  4. ^ Geeraerts, Dirk (2002). "The interaction of metaphor and metonymy in composite expressions". In Dirven, René; Pörings, Ralf. Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Retrieved August 20, 2006. [page needed]
  5. ^ Halverson, Sandra L.; Engene, Jan Oskar (2010). "Domains and Dimensions in Metonymy: A Corpus-Based Study of Schengen and Maastricht". Metaphor and Symbol 25: 1–18. doi:10.1080/10926480903538456. 
  6. ^ Natase, Vivi; Strube, Michael (2009). "Combining collocations, lexical and encyclopedic knowledge for metonymy resolution". Proceedings of the 2009 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing. 2. p. 915. ISBN 978-1-932432-62-6.  citing Farkas, Richárd; Simon, Eszter; Szarvas, György; Varga, Dániel (2007). "GYDER: maxent metonymy resolution". Proceedings of the 4th International Workshop on Semantic Evaluations. pp. 161–4. "Instances like 'He was shocked by Vietnam' or 'Schengen boosted tourism 'were assigned to broad categories like place-for-event, sometimes ignoring narrower distinctions, such as the fact that it wasn’t the signing of the treaty at Schengen but rather its actual implementation (which didn't take place at Schengen) that boosted tourism." 


  • Corbett, Edward P.J. (1971). Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Dirven, René. Conversion as a Conceptual Metonymy of Basic Event Schemata. 
  • Fass, Dan. Processing Metonymy and Metaphor. ISBN 1-56750-231-8. 
  • Somov, Georgij Yu. (2009). "Metonymy and its manifestation in visual artworks: Case study of late paintings by Bruegel the Elder". Semiotica 2009 (174): 309–66. doi:10.1515/semi.2009.037. 
  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0. 
  • Blank, Andreas (1998), Prinzipien des lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Grzega, Joachim (2004), Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Ein Beitrag zur englischen und allgemeinen Onomasiologie, Heidelberg: Winter.
  • Warren, Beatrice (2006), "Referential Metonymy",Royal Society of Letters at Lund, Lund, Sweden; ISBN 91-22-02148-5

Further reading

  • Fass, Dan (1988). "Metonymy and metaphor: what's the difference?". Proceedings of the 12th conference on Computational linguistics. 1. pp. 177–81. doi:10.3115/991635.991671. ISBN 963-8431-56-3. 
  • René Dirvens & Ralf Pörings, ed (2002). Metaphor and Metonymy in Contrast. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter 
  • Lakoff, George (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226468011 .
  • Low, Graham. "An Essay is a Person". In Cameron, Lynne; Low, Graham. Researching and Applying Metaphor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 221–48. ISBN 978-0-521-64964-3. 
  • Jakobson, Roman (1995 (originally published in 1956)). "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Disturbances". In Linda Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston. On Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674635361 
  • Metonymy as a cross-lingual phenomenon [Peters 2003] ()
  • Peters, Wim (2003). "Metonymy as a cross-lingual phenomenon". Proceedings of the ACL 2003 workshop on Lexicon and figurative language. 14. pp. 1–9. doi:10.3115/1118975.1118976. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • metonymy — is a figure of speech in which an attribute or property is used to refer to the person or thing that has it, e.g. the White House for the American presidency and the Crown for the British monarchy. In the proverb The pen is mightier than the… …   Modern English usage

  • Metonymy — Me*ton y*my (m[ e]*t[o^]n [i^]*m[y^]; 277), n. [L. metonymia, Gr. metwnymi a; meta , indicating change + o nyma, for o noma a name: cf. F. m[ e]tonymie. See {Name}.] (Rhet.) A trope in which one word is put for another that suggests it; as, we… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • metonymy — (n.) 1560s, from Fr. métonymie (16c.) and directly from L.L. metonymia, from Gk. metonymia, lit. a change of name, related to metonomazein to call by a new name; to take a new name, from meta change (see meta ) + onyma, dialectal form of onoma… …   Etymology dictionary

  • metonymy — [mə tän′ə mē] n. pl. metonymies [LL metonymia < Gr metōnymia < meta, other (see META ) + onoma, onyma,NAME] a figure of speech in which the name of one thing is used in place of that of another associated with or suggested by it (Ex.: “the… …   English World dictionary

  • metonymy — /mi ton euh mee/, n. Rhet. a figure of speech that consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part, as scepter for sovereignty, or the bottle for strong drink, or count …   Universalium

  • metonymy — metonym ► NOUN ▪ a word or expression used as a substitute for something with which it is closely associated, e.g. Washington for the US government. DERIVATIVES metonymic adjective metonymy noun. ORIGIN from Greek met numia change of name …   English terms dictionary

  • metonymy — noun (plural mies) Etymology: Latin metonymia, from Greek metōnymia, from meta + ōnymon onym Date: 1547 a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • metonymy — См. metonìmia …   Пятиязычный словарь лингвистических терминов

  • metonymy — noun The use of a single characteristic or name of an object to identify an entire object or related object …   Wiktionary

  • metonymy — me·ton·y·my (mə tonґĭ me) [meta + Gr. onyma name] a disturbance of language seen in schizophrenic disorders in which an inappropriate but related term is used instead of the correct one …   Medical dictionary

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