Pars pro toto

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Pars pro toto ( Latin ) means translated: "A part [stands] for the whole". The principle of the pars pro toto can describe a rhetorical figure as a linguistic phenomenon , but can also be understood practically as a social or psychological behavior and, in particular, as a form of fetishism . In philosophy there is the pars-pro-toto fallacy .

The counterpart of this figure is the case of the totum pro parte (“the whole [stands] for a part”).

Rhetorical word figure

As a word figure, the pars pro toto belongs to the group of the tropics and denotes both a special form of metonymy (name swapping, renaming) and a special form of synecdoche ( shifting of meaning). The counterpart of the pars pro toto is the case of the totum pro parte (“the whole describes a part”).

Examples from everyday language:

Psychological property of visual perception

Since the field is not scanned line by line in visual perception, but heuristically selectively learns the trained observer, a perception he particularly which parts fix needs to recognize the whole. For example, a good reader does not have to look at all of the letters of a word to read it.

Pars pro toto here means that the perception of the decisive parts of an object is sufficient for its identification.

This also explains why the more familiar with a group of objects, the faster the perception.

Social phenomenon

In the case of a pars-pro-toto sacrifice , part of the body is sacrificed in symbolic representation for the whole person. In magic and occultism , pars-pro-toto relationships are also used to influence people.

For Karl Marx , the pars pro toto is a principle of commodity fetishism : In commodity fetishism , the process of human labor is replaced and thus veiled by its isolated result, the commodity appearing on the market . The social processes and conditions associated with their manufacture can no longer be seen in the finished goods.

The principle of pars pro toto can also be applied to sexual fetishism , as it is understood in psychoanalysis . In sexual fetishism, for example, a fetish object, such as a woman's stocking, replaces this person as an isolated part of a sexual object that is supposed to represent the presence of a whole person and is desired in their place.


In archeology , the “pars-pro-toto custom” is understood to be a burial custom in which parts of a larger object are symbolically placed in the grave instead of the entire object . A small - usually less materially expensive - part of the whole stands for the addition of the whole - valuable - object, for example a pin for a whole carriage , a sword belt for the entire sword , a bridle for a horse , etc. Through this symbolic addition " pars pro toto ”, it was possible to prevent materially valuable property from being withdrawn from further use by the descendants and thus weakening their economic strength.

Applications in literature

  • Life views of the cat Murr from ETA Hoffmann : The good people easily fall in love with a pair of beautiful eyes, stretch out both arms to the pleasant person, from whose face the said eyes shine, enclose the lady in circles that are getting closer and closer , at last shrink to the wedding ring that you put on the beloved's finger as pars pro toto - you understand some Latin, gracious princess - as pars pro toto I say, as a link in the chain on which you lead the loved one home into the Marital jail .

Web links

Wiktionary: Pars pro Toto  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Werner Hunziker: In the eye of the reader: foveal and peripheral perception - from spelling to reading pleasure . Transmedia Stäubli Verlag, Zurich 2006, ISBN 978-3-7266-0068-6