linguist • writer • editor • lecturer • broadcaster
[Thursday 03 January, 2013]
[met-on-uh-mee], metonym [met-uh-nim]
CAZ: Roger’s in trouble. He’s appearing in front of the bench tomorrow.
BAZ: Why is that a problem? It’s only a piece of furniture.
Baz, I hasten to add, is only nine. If he were 19, he would hardly answer like that - unless he wanted to crack a particularly pathetic joke. The bench here means the ‘magistrates’. Magistrates used to sit along a bench, when they were in court, and over the years the name of the seat came to be used for those sitting on it.
Language of this kind is called metonymy - a term from Greek, meaning ‘name change’. It’s a figure of speech where the name of a distinctive characteristic of a thing is used instead of the name of the thing itself. The bench is a metonym, as is the crown, meaning the king or queen. Nicknames are often metonyms, too. If you have a teacher with a long beard, for instance, you might call him the beard. And next time someone calls you big ears or four eyes, take comfort from the fact that you’ve been labelled with a metonym.
Cartoon 66
Related notions: figure of speech, metaphor

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