A definition of metonymy.

One of the most characteristic and well-known rhetorical uses of metonymy can be found in the sentence “The pen is mightier than the sword”. In this phrase the pen stands for something else than it might seem at the first glance and might be interpreted as words written down with it, or even as the intellectual writing the words. Also the sword might refer to aggressive behaviour, or a person wielding a sword. According to Nerlich the first definition of metonymy already appeared in the first century A.D. As the ancient scholars put it, a metonymy is “a trope that takes its expression from near and close thing and by which we can comprehend a thing that is not denominated by its proper word” (Nerlich, 2005:109).

As in the case of the contemporary theory of metaphor, Lakoff and Johnson’s work entitled Metaphors We Live By shed some new light also on the issue of the usage of metonymy. Lakoff and Johnson defined metonymy as “using one entity to refer to another that is related to it” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:35) and provided numerous examples of its use in everyday speech:

(18) He likes to read the Marquis de Sade.
(19) He’s in dance.
(20) The Times hasn’t arrived at the press conference yet.

‘Marquis de Sade’ refers to his writings, ‘dance’ refers to the dancing profession and ‘Times’ in this case refers to the reporter from the Times magazine.

They were also interested in another as they called it ‘special case of metonymy’, namely synecdoche. However, European linguistic tradition makes a distinction between metonymy and synecdoche, while in the American tradition both of them are perceived as being instances of metonymy. Synecdoche can be defined as expression in which a part stands for the whole, which can be easily seen in the following examples (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:36):

(21) We need a couple of strong bodies for out team.
(22) There are a lot of good heads in the university.
(23) I’ve got a new set of wheels.
(24) We need some new blood in the organization.

‘Strong bodies’ stands for strong people, ‘good heads’ stands for intelligent people, ‘set of wheels’ stands for a car, a motorcycle, etc. and ‘new blood’ stands for new people.
Again, as in the case of metaphorical expressions, Lakoff and Johnson claim that metonymies are not just a matter of language, but are linguistic representations of how people perceive the world and think about it. The view that metonymic concepts are grounded in human experience is supported by research that they conducted which indicates that there are many patterns of creating such expressions (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980:38).
The first of such patterns is the PART FOR WHOLE, instantiated by the sentences in (25) (a-c):

(25) a. Get your butt over here!
b. We don’t hire longhairs.
c. The Giants need a stronger arm in right field.

Another pattern involves the metonymy PRODUCER FOR PRODUCT, instantiated by the sentences in (26) (a-c):

(26) a. He bought a Ford.
b. He’s got a Picasso in his den.
c. I hate to read Heidegger.

The next pattern is OBJECT USED FOR USER, instantiated by the sentences in (27) (a-c):

(27) a. The sax has the flu today.
b. The gun he hired wanted fifty grand.
c. The buses are on strike.

Another pattern involves the metonymy CONTROLLER FOR THE CONTROLLED, instantiated by the sentences in (28) (a-c):

(28) a. Nixon bombed Hanoi.
b. Napoleon lost at Waterloo.
c. A Mercedes rear-ended me.

The next pattern is INSTITUTION FOR THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE, instantiated by the sentences in (29) (a-c):

(29) a. You’ll never get the university to agree to that.
b. The Army wants to reinstitute the draft.
c. The Senate thinks abortion is immoral.

Another pattern involves the metonymy THE PLACE FOR THE INSTITUTION, instantiated by the sentences in (30) (a-c):

(30) a. The White House isn’t saying anything.
b. Washington is insensitive to the needs of the people.
c. Wall Street is in a panic.

The next pattern is THE PLACE FOR THE EVENT, instantiated by the sentences in (31) (a-c):

(31) a. Watergate changed our politics.
b. It’s been Grand Central Station here all day.
c. Let’s not let Thailand become another Vietnam.

Yet, with the development of cognitive linguistics and increased number of scholars investigating language use from that point of view, even more systematically recurring patterns were found. According to Nerlich (205:111) Norrick lists as many as 18 metonymic principles in his typology, although it needs to be noted that he includes there also synecdoches. Norrick groups his metonymic principles into six groups. The first of these is cause – effect, which has four variants:

I. Cause – effect
1. Cause – effect
2. Producer – product
3. Natural source – natural product
4. Instrument – product

Norrick’s second group labeled “Acts and major participants” this group also consists of four variants:

II. Acts and major participants
1. Object – act
2. Instrument – act
3. Agent – act
4. agent – instrument

Norrick’s third group consists of the prototypical metonymy is part-whole relationship, which is broken down into three classes:

III. Part – whole
1. Part – whole
2. Act – complex act
3. Central factor – institution

Norrick’s group four reflects the widespread container-content relations. Norrick lists three variants as instantiations of these categories:

IV. Container – content
1. Container – content
2. Locality – occupant
3. Costume – wearer

The fifth metonymic group that Norrick describes relates classes of ‘Experience to convention’:

V. Experience – convention
1. Experience – convention
2. Manifestation – definition

The final metonymical group described by Norrick centers around the notion of a Possessor and a Possession. Norrick specifies two varieties for this group:

VI. Possessor – possession
1. Possessor – possession
2. Office holder – office

The increased interest in cognitive linguistics and in metonymy resulted in further advances in the development of new, ingenious theories. And thus there are now two different views concerning the nature of metonymies. Certain linguists (such as Seto for example) claim that a metonymy is basically a pragmatic and referential phenomenon, while others, including Kovesces and Radden suggest that it is connected with human conceptualization and cognitive processes (Nerlich, 2005:109).
In addition to the main trends in cognitive linguistics mentioned above there are also other theories, such as, for instance, Warren’s distinction between referential metonymy and propositional metonymy. According to Warren, the former type is reference-based, as in the case of container-content, or cause and effect relations, while the latter is based on the antecedent-consequent relation. An example of referential metonymy is “The bathtub is running over” and an example of propositional metonymy: “It won’t happen while I still breathe.” (Nerlich, 2005:111) Even so, it is in most cases a lot easier to distinguish between types of metonymies than to distinguish a metaphor from a metonymy.