Quote: “Chainsaw Drew.” Nickname of Harvard’s first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust.
Figure of Speech: metonymy (meh-TON-ih-mee), the quality-name swap. From the Greek, meaning “name change.”
Harvard won a trifecta with Dr. Faust: she’s a woman, a hard-nosed manager, and the owner of a scary name. The new president succeeds the rhetorically club-footed Larry Summers. (See Figaro’s take on him here.)
The media describe Dr. Faust as a gender pioneer, but we suspect that Harvard’s exasperated governing body is more interested in her ability to control the university’s $3 billion budget and its wild herd of academic cats. Dr. Faust comes from the Radcliffe Institute, where she cut a quarter of the staff, thus earning the moniker “Chainsaw Drew.”
The nickname qualifies as a metonymy, which in turn counts as one of the central tropes, or figures that say one thing and mean another. (Its siblings are the metaphor, synecdoche, and irony.) This particular swapper takes a quality associated with a subject — cost-cutter — and applies it to a name or thing — Chainsaw.
Apparently, Faust prefers her gory nickname to the gender label. Stop calling me “woman president,” the woman president insists, using a syncrisis: “I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.” But as Figaro notes in his book, one should not counter a label by repeating it. The woman president (okay, we’ll stop) is simply strengthening those synapses in the brain that link “woman” with “president of Harvard.”
Snappy Answer: “Nice Faustian choice.”