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

No Thursdays at the County Hospital for Mr. Jules Amthor.

The default for any sentence is the literal meaning, so every figurative device must have an accompanying cue that it's not literal.

Usually the cue is the literal meaning not being true. But being false isn't the cue for this type of synecdoche, because the literal meaning is always true – if a statement is true for the category, it must be true for the instance of the category. For example, Amthor wouldn't volunteer at the County Hospital.

The cue for this synecdoche is being too specific. Amphor's personality was being described. In that context, the fact that he doesn't do charity at the County Hospital is too specific. So that information makes sense only as standing for a more general category.

Make your synecdoche too specific to be meant literally.

This synecdoche isn't as easy to communicate as well as an author might like. There's a jarringness when the reader first understands the literal meaning and then has to shift to the figurative meaning. Use this synecdoche only when the value of the vividness outweighs the jarringness, and try to minimize jarringness.


In general, the context somehow signals that the information is too specific. In the following, a question is asked and synechdoche is used to say nothing happened.

BARNARDO: Have you had quiet guard?
FRANCISCO.: Not a mouse stirring.
(Hamlet, Shakespeare)

Taken literally, the "guard" could have been very eventful -- the answer only talks about mice. But that answer is not supposed to be taken literally.


One context is contrast. The idea is this. You would not discuss summer and then contrast it to January 15th, you would contrast summer to winter. So discussing summer and then considering January 15th would be synecdoche for winter.

When Democrats trash Republican-leaning constituencies, it's a political catastrophe. When Republicans trash Democratic-leaning constituencies, it's Tuesday. (Serwer, The Atlantic, website)

Tuesday is, I think, meant to be an ordinary day and imply normal days. (I apologize for the political content.)

Chandler also added contrast:

No Thursdays at the County Hospital for Mr. Jules Amthor. Cash on the line for him.

And my use of synecdoche from the previous page:

1. Food is abstract; that story wanted kite strings.
2. Food is abstract; that story wanted vivid and concrete.

Curiously, it is not easy to describe the category (#2). I meant to include imaginable, but the sentence was getting long. Since I had already described the category, and because I had already used kite string as an example, this is an unusual instance where the synecdoche communicates the categor better.


Specificity can be increased to signal synecdoche. Chandler does that perfectly with his mention of Thursday.

No Thursdays at the County Hospital for Mr. Jules Amthor.

I could have said "string", but I said "kite string." Honestly, my thought was only to be more vivid and extreme, but that detail also increases specificity.

My character was very hungry and would have been happy to find any food. So she would have been looking for any food, not just pretzel. So the context alone suggests synecdoche. The "broken piece" increases specificity. That's why my reader would have sooner or later figured out the correct meaning.

But I was not happy with "or later", and that still seemed plausible. Fortunately, there is a technique that, when all else fails, always works!