The Queen’s English – A Strange Word and Stranger Yet Movie

A word, synecdoche, has come into our consciousness via Hollywood, as a recent movie bears it as its title. I have yet to find anyone who knew of its existence, much less its definition.

First, its pronunciation: si-NEK-duh-kee.

Its definition is as intriguing as its existence is rare.

Merriam-Webster defines it (a noun) as “A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sails for fifty ships); the whole for a part (as society for high society); the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin); the genus for the species (as a creature for a man); or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).”

Other illustrations:

A part refers to whole: hands for sailors; set-of-wheels for car; 50 head for 50 cows; white hair for an elderly person; press for newspaper.

Whole Refers to a Part: head for brain (“use your head!”); Delaware (the legislature of Delaware) has passed a law on the subject; body for just the trunk of a body.

Species Refers to its Genus: Hoover for vacuum cleaner; castle for home; bread for food; Judas for traitor; Xerox for Copier; Kleenex for facial tissue. (Companies such as Hoover and Xerox become very distressed when their trademarked product names become generic nouns, even though it’s something of a compliment.) They fear they will lose their tradename rights.)

Material Refers to Object: copper for penny; plastic for credit card; pigskin for football; lead for bullet; “hardwood for gym floor”.

Now the ultimate challenge: Work it into a sentence. Incidentally, the word is nearly synonymous with metonymy (that’ll help!).

As to the movie: It showed promise with a bevy of good actors, but how it ran on, and on, and on, all the time becoming denser. Sad to report.

Finally, on different topics, a couple of observations from the Philadelphia Weekly:

We often read, “An innocent bystander was injured.” PW observes, a “Is there such a thing as a guilty bystander?” (“Bystander” implies non-involvement or innocence.)

Another: “The accident victim was rushed to a nearby hospital.” When is the last time they took a victim to a distant hospital?

The point of these observations is that they illustrate both redundancy (superfluous or needless repetition) and cliché (trite phrase or hackneyed situation). Though neither phrase is grammatically incorrect, each can be evidence of laziness and pomposity. Be on-guard in your speech and writing to minimize the use of both. Lean is better!

— Ken Butera

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