The "Cheat"
Synecdochal Examples
Single Boundary
More Instances
My Reflections
Other Synecdoches
Other Types of Synecdoche

Synecdoche is usually defined as using a part of something to stand for the whole. Then this is usually given as a typical example:

I work in the Pentagon.

The Pentagon building is five-sided. Um, that's a feature, not a part.

Things like that drive me crazy.

There's no useful advice on those pages. That also drives me crazy.

To repeat , I was interested in using an instance of a category or group to stand for the category (or group). That could count as having a part stand for the whole.

Here, I will talk about the other types of synecdoche. I doubt I will say anything useful, but it might be helpful to have the categories laid out in an organized, cynical way.

Synecdoche for Parts

The standard definition of synecdoche is using a part to stand for the whole. A typical example is using wheels to stand for a car. However, "wheel" has probably achieved word status. So it really isn't useful writing advice -- you already knew you could use words to mean what the dictionary says they mean.

Wheels is not more vivid than car. So why would you use this type of synecdoche? One explanation is to make the reader think, which is kind of an excuse for bad writing. (You can also make your reader think by leaving out the spaces.)

And it suggests you could use Kansas for the United States.

The population of Kansas is more than 300,000 million.

That's certainly going to make the reader think! But only to the point of frustrated confusion.

And yet . . . there are times when we let a part stand for the whole.

John graduated today.
John was handed his diploma today.

And that works. The cue is that the part probably isn't separated from the whole. And that does achieve concreteness and vividness.

I saw a gun barrel peeking around the corner.

There is probably a gun and even someone holding the gun. The goal here is perspective – the main character sees only the barrel.

My heart was pounding.

There is an adrenalin resonse; a pounding heart is part of that. The pounding heart is more concrete and vivid.

This is not figurative. Really, the statement is literally true. And as the gun barrel example shows, jumping from part to whole is just an inference. Not a convention. Really:

He landed in Kansas.

He also landed in the United States. So no cue is needed that it's figurative.

Synecdoche by Feature

The Pentagon building gets its name from being a regular pentagon. The shape isn't really a part of a building, it's a feature.

Any distinctive feature can be used as a nickname. For example, someone might be called Shorty, Red, or Sneezy. Often it becomes a name that people recognize (such as Pentagon). It can be metaphoric, such as Tank or The King (for Elvis Presly).

These have essentially achieved word status. Notice how the name is usually capitalized.

If the nickname is only known for you and your circle of friends, it won't be in the dictionary but it will still function like a word for you and your friends.

Without yet being the name, the cue is that someone or something has the feature.

These can be pejorative, function to aid a faulty memory, or just help the reader manage a barrage of names.

Using a Whole to Stand for a Part

The White House announced its new plan today

I have no idea why this counts as synecdoche. Anyway, someone made the announement; the building did not.

However, if some spokesperson announced the plan, it isn't the plan of the spokesperson. Who's plan is it? The people working together in the White House are capable of constructing an anonymous plan. Then it helps to just attrbute it to the group as a whole.

Submit that to Human Resources
Exxon announced a new initiative today