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The depicted Kremlin is a common metonymy for the government of Russia or the Soviet Union

The metonymy (from ancient Greek μετωνυμία metonymía "interchanging the name, setting one word for the other"; in Latin as a foreign word metonymia or purely Latin immutatio , denominatio or transnominatio ) is a rhetorical style figure in which a linguistic expression is not in its actual literal meaning , but is used in a non-literal, figurative sense: Between the literal and figuratively designated thing there is then a relationship of contiguity , i.e. of proximity or real factual togetherness ( proximitas ) . Metonymy belongs to the tropics .

Types of metonymy

According to the type of contiguity relationship, the following subtypes of metonymy are traditionally distinguished:

  • Cause stands for effect, for example the producer for the product ( a BMW for a motor vehicle of this manufacturer), the name of the author for his work ( read Schiller ), or vice versa, the effect for the cause ( noise for dispute)
  • Raw material stands for what is produced from it ( the iron for the sword as a weapon forged from iron, drink a glass )
  • the place for what is there ( Africa is starving: some or many inhabitants of Africa, Brussels decides: the government of the European Union , from the Kremlin you can hear: the government of Russia or the Soviet Union, the hall applauds : the audience), or the Epoch for the people living in it ( the Middle Ages believed )
  • Owner for the property, commander for those who carry it out ( Hannibal conquers Rome )


As a rhetorical style figure, metonymy belongs to the tropics , i. H. Expressions generally based on a difference between what is said literally and what is meant figuratively. By type, they differ in the type of relationship that exists between what is said and what is meant.


Relationship by similarity: In the metaphor there is a relationship of partial similarity or analogy with simultaneous partial dissimilarity; the connected concepts belong to different areas of reality. For example, the sound of the wind, since it resembles the utterance of a living being, is called the whisper or howl of the wind .


Relationship through generic or subordinate term: The synecdoche is a relationship between the particular and the general, if, for example, the singular is used for the plural or a species for a genus or vice versa. For example, in the saying " to earn one's bread" , the food "bread" generally stands for a livelihood or man has developed over millennia - the term "man" stands for all of humanity.


Relationship through contiguity : In contrast, metonymy works with a relationship of spatial or temporal contiguity between terms from the same realm of reality. The terms can be related to spatial proximity (e.g. container for content), temporal sequence (such as effect and cause) or simultaneity. Just like the Synekdoche , what is said and what is actually meant come from the same realm of reality, in contrast to metaphor . In contrast to the Synekdoche, however, it remains on the same level (no change to a higher or lower category).

Metonymy vs. Synecdoche

In particular, the distinction between metonymy and synecdoche depends essentially on how one understands the relationship between part and whole ( pars pro toto , totum pro parte ). In the Synekdoche there is a relationship between part and whole, since the particular (glass) can be seen as part of the general (drinking vessel). This relationship is an abstract relationship between the parent and child concept. The relationship between part and whole in metonymy, on the other hand, is a real connection between two terms. If the glass is viewed as a typical container for a drink, there is a metonymic substitution between actually connected units that together form a whole (drink in a glass; “a glass of wine” ).

With this difference in mind, the term synecdoche can be limited to categorical relationships (between category and subcategory), while the pars-pro-toto type of metonymy can be limited to relationships between objects that form a whole in a unity. If the difference is neglected, however, the synecdoche is combined with this latter type and then sometimes also viewed as a subspecies of metonymy.

The subtype of the relationship between raw material and product is also classified differently. As a designation of a whole ( sword ) through the partial aspect of its material nature (made of iron ), it is considered a subtype of metonymy. But since the name of the substance iron for "weapon (made of iron)" can also be interpreted as the more general term to which all products of the same material quality can be subordinated, this type is sometimes classified as a subtype of the Synekdoche.

Combined applications

Because different types of tropical transference can work together in the same expression , it is advisable not to apply the concept of metonymy and other tropes, or not exclusively, to the linguistic result in its concrete meaning, but also and primarily to the linguistic-cognitive operations that are constitutive for it . For example, the pair of terms crown and tiara stands metonymically for the persons “emperor and pope” as bearers of these attributes, but these persons in turn can metaphorically stand for the institutions or abstracts “empire and church”, “secular and ecclesiastical power”. In linguistics, the interplay of metonymy and metaphor is sometimes treated under the term metaphtonymy (Louis Goossens).

Metonymic and other tropical transfers are not limited to the area of ​​linguistic expression, but can also be found in the field of fine arts , where attributes such as crown and tiara can also serve metonymically for their wearers and, in conjunction with metaphorical transfer, to make analogous abstracts sensible.

See also


  • Marc Bonhomme: Le discours métonymique (=  Sciences pour la communication, 79). Lang, Frankfurt am Main [a. a.] 2006, ISBN 3-03910-840-9 .
  • Hans-Harry Drößiger: Metaphorics and metonymy in German: Investigations into the discourse potential of semantic-cognitive spaces (=  Philologia series of publications, 97). Kovač-Verlag, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 3-8300-2227-1 .
  • Louis Goossens: Metaphtonymy: The interaction of metaphor and metonymy in expressions for linguistic action. In: Cognitive Linguistics 1 (1990), pp. 323-340.
  • Klaus-Uwe Panther, Günter Radden (eds.): Metonymy in language and thought (=  Human cognitive processing, 4). Benjamin, Amsterdam [u. a.] 1999, ISBN 90-272-2356-4 .
  • Krzysztof Kosecki: Perspectives on Metonymy: Proceedings of the International Conference “Perspectives on Metonymy”, held in Łódź, Poland, May 6–7, 2005 (=  Łódź Studies in Language, 14). Lang, Frankfurt am Main [a. a.] 2007, ISBN 0-8204-8791-0 .
  • Beatrice Warren: Referential Metonymy (=  Scripta minora Regiae Societatis Humaniorum Litterarum Lundensis, 2003/04, 1). Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm 2006, ISBN 91-22-02148-5 .
  • Harald Weinrich : On the definition of metonymy and its position in rhetorical art. In: Arnold Arens (Ed.): Text-Etymologie. Body and content research. Festschrift for Heinrich Lausberg on his 75th birthday. Franz Steiner, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN 3-515-04657-7 , pp. 105-110.
  • David E. Wellbery : Transmissions: Metaphor and Metonymy. In: Heinrich Bosse, Ursula Renner (Ed.): Literary Studies. Introduction to the language game. Freiburg 1999, pp. 179-189.

Web links

Wiktionary: Metonymy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Representations of metonymy in the rhetorical tradition:
  • Linguistic representations:
  • Literary studies:

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Pape , Max Sengebusch (arrangement): Concise dictionary of the Greek language. 3rd edition, 6th impression. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig 1914, p. 164 ( online ).
  2. ^ Karl Ernst Georges : Comprehensive Latin-German concise dictionary. 8th, improved and increased edition. Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Hanover 1913-1918, Volume 2, Sp. 907 ( online ).