Figaro has been getting quite a bit of mail noting that the BP chairman’s “small people” gaffe constitutes a trope, not just a figure of speech. So what kind of trope is it, they ask?
“Small people” is a metonymy, a trope that takes a part or characteristic of something and uses it to define the whole. Small people’s position in society is itty-bitty, a characteristic that’s used to define the people themselves.
“The little guy,” on the other hand, is a synecdoche—one person used to describe a type or group of people. Of course, the “little” part of the guy is a metonymy as well…
Whew. It’s getting tropical around here. In general, if you something isn’t literally true—the “small people” in America seem to get larger every day—then it’s probably either a trope or a lie. And what are the other tropes? You’ve certainly heard of ‘em: metaphor and irony.