Synecdoche: Part for a whole or whole for a part

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Synecdoche is a trope founded on the relation of a whole to its parts.

Synecdoche: Part for a whole or whole for a part

From English Composition and Rhetoric, by Alexander Bain;  Manualof English Rhetoric by Andrew Dousa Hepburn; Rhetoric, by Thomas Gibbons:


There are various forms of synecdoche, answering to the different kinds of wholes and parts.

I. Part for a whole

A. Species is put for the genus, an individual for species.

1. Specific for general

 For instance, bread for food; silver and gold for riches.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks,”—swords and spears are here used for all weapons of war, plowshares and pruning-hooks for the implements of the peaceful arts; a Homer, instead of an epic poet; a Demosthenes, instead of an orator.

2. Individual for specific

For instance, a Solomon, for a wise man; a Judas, for a traitor.
In introducing new ones care must be taken that their application be instantly recognized.

B. A quality or attribute of an individual object or person is put for the individual.

Thus spoke the tempter”; “the philosopher for Aristotle.
Although seemingly substituting the general for the particular, it really presents the individual with some prominent characteristic, and thus makes the notion more distinct.

C. The matter of an object is put for the form.

The material the thing is made of is used:
“The breathing marble and the glowing canvas.
Likewise, steel for sword, lead for bullet. The object is thus presented more vividly by suggesting some of its visible aspects.


D. A part of an integrate whole is given instead of the whole.

The captain and his crew sailed the waves.
(the waves for the ocean)
The farmer bought twenty head at market.
(the head for the whole body)

E. A lesser is used for a greater.

1. Determinate for indeterminate

 ten thousand swords” for a multitude of weapons

2. Singular for plural

an old man is venerable” for old men are venerable

F. Effects of using a part for a whole:

1. More easily imagined

What is abstract and general is conveyed by means of particular and individual notions that can be pictured in the imagination

2. Necessity of care in choosing what parts are used to represent the whole

a. Most appropriate are those prominent characteristic parts which suggest most naturally and readily the entire object.
b. A part only should be chosen which is appropriate to the idea and purpose of the writer, and corresponds to what is said of the whole which it represents. 

II. Whole for a part

A. General for specific

a vessel for a ship; a creature for a man.
To substitute the more general is less common than substituting the specific for general. This is because the effect is less dynamic unless the generic name has a peculiar expressiveness.

B. Plural for the singular

We misled the People, and gained the reputation of Orators.”
 This Cicero tells Brutus, when he intends only himself.

C. Abstract for the concrete

The case of putting the abstract for the concrete is, like the general for the specific, an exception. Youth, beauty, may sometimes stand for the young, the beautiful; the figurative effect lies in isolating, as it were, the main quality, and thus giving it greater prominence.


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