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    But His Penmanship Is First Rate

    GeorgeWBush-signature.jpgQuote:  “The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention.”  Federal Judge Diana Gribbon Motz

    Figure of Speech:  metonymy (meh-TON-y-my), the scale-changing figure.  From the Greek, meaning “name change.”

    A three-judge panel ruled that the president does not have the authority to declare civilians “enemy combatants” and jail them without habeas corpus.  Judge Motz uses a classic metonymy when she writes for the 2-1 majority.  The president is literate enough to sign documents with more than one stroke, and that makes it a metonymy, a little thing that stands for a big thing, or the reverse.

    The difference between a metonymy and its unpronounceable look-alike cousin, the synecdoche, causes a lot of confusion. There’s too much overlap between the two figures, and  Figaro is tired of parsing it.  He’s more interested in the practical use of rhetoric than in being right all the time.  So from now on, anything that makes a part stand for a whole, or a species for a genus, or little things for big things, or vice versa, shall henceforth be a metonymy.

    There.  He corrupted a 2,500-year rhetorical tradition with the stroke of a, uh, keyboard.

    Snappy Answer:  “If the Constitution won’t keep us safe, let’s get rid of the Constitution.”

    Technically, the metonymy is a kind of figure called a trope.  For more on tropes, see page 212 of Figaro’s book

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    Reader Comments (12)

    A three-judge panel of rhetoricians would slap your figurative wrist, Fig. Kenneth Burke, the great 20th century rhetorician calls the synecdoche one of the four basic figures (along with the metonymy, metaphor, and irony). So are you telling us that Figaro trumps Burke?
    June 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAndre
    Yes. I mean, no. Burke called metonymy a figure of "reduction." OK, I get it. It's scale-changing. Synecdoche, he said, was a figure of "representation." Well, what figure isn't? So Figaro doesn't trump Burke; he simply (in this instance) doesn't understand him. And Figaro is like the president: When he doesn't understand something, he takes action!

    June 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    I dunno, Fig. I always thought synecdoche was "part for the whole" and metonymy was "associated for the actual".
    IE: metonymy is 'the pen is mightier than the sword' (more of a metaphor)
    synecdoche is 'all hands on deck'

    So isn't synecdoche scale-changing and metonymy substitution?
    It makes sense, etymology-wise...
    June 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSofia
    Yes, it does, Sofia, but your examples prove my point. Both figures are scale-changing.

    June 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Since Hayden White devoted two big books to the metaphor/synecdoche/metonymy/irony distinctions, your equally small metahistorical indistinctions are tropically unconservative, too. But don't expect George Bush to see as much!
    June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStyles
    Your comment certainly was litotical, Styles! My biggest concern is that we'll be subject to Samuel Butler's dig that "All the rhetorician's rules/ Teach but the naming of his tools."

    June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    I'd say "allusively" litotical, as Gregory Machacek's "Allusion" piece in the current PMLA happily advises.

    Since I've never met a tool I didn't like, Butler be damned!
    June 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStyles
    Consider me a tool, then.

    June 13, 2007 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    good for you! yes practical seeing thru crap -- though i love to SAY synechdoche.
    June 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMari
    Mmmm...sin-EC-do-kee. Hey, I just made a tasis!

    June 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Or as the bumper sticker on the back of my car says, "The Constitution is a shield, not a sword."
    June 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJon
    This is way late, but Fig is right. The only coherent way to distinguish between them is to treat synecdoche as a sub-class of metonymy. The phenomenon that metonymy describes -- substitution of an associated thing for the thing itself -- includes synecdoche by definition. Unless you want to argue that the barrel of a gun isn't associated with the gun. So any synecdoche is also metonymy. I applaud you, Fig, for cutting the crap.
    April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

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