sê-nek-dê-kee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The metaphorical technique of naming a specific part when referring to the whole. 2. Naming the whole to indicate a part.
Notes: Today's Good Word is the proper literary term for a habit that is ubiquitous in common speech. The adjective for it is synecdochic(al) and you may use the adverb when you speak synecdochically. The practice of using synecdoches is synecdochism.
In Play: You avail yourself of synecdoche every time you say a neighbor lives two doors down the street, meaning houses. When your teenaged son whose English grades are low says, "I can't go out tonight, the 'rents have the wheels," he is saying "car" with one of the major rhetorical devices of English. The reverse situation, using a whole to refer to a part, is also synecdoche: "I think Ghana is going to beat Brazil in the World Cup," besides being wishful thinking, is a synecdoche in which wholes (Ghana, Brazil) refer to only parts of themselves (the Ghanaian and Brazilian soccer teams).
Word History: Today's Good Word was taken whole from Greek synekdoche, the noun of the verb syn-ek-dechesthai "to take a part of". This verb comprises a prefix syn- "with, together" + a stem ek "out of" + dechomai "to take, receive." Ekdechomai alone means "take" in the sense of "understand", the opposite of the meaning of mistake. The doche is cousin to Latin doc-ere "to teach", found in English words such as doctor and dogma. (Saying 'Thank you' to Katy Brezger for suggesting today's Good Word in the Agora is almost synecdoche, since it expresses only a part of our gratitude.)
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