Printable Version
Pronunciation: me-tah-nê-mee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A figure of speech involving the substitution of a word or phrase with another closely associated with it, as in "The Crown is against a hitching post in the courtyard," when it is actually a king or queen who is annoyed with the post.

Notes: Today's Good Word is often confused with metaphor, so in the next section we will describe the difference between them. You have a wide choice of adjectives to use with this noun: metonymous, metonymic, or metonymical will all do. A word or phrase used metonymously is a metonym.

In Play: If we say, "Felix adores Dostoyevsky," we mean that he adores something Dostoyevsky is associated with, in this case the writer's novels. "Rome opposes abortion," refers to the Catholic Church, whose seat is in Rome. If the metonym is a part of the actual object referred to, the relationship is synecdoche: the crowned heads of Europe implies the bodies associated with those heads, as well. Metonymy is sometimes confused with metaphor. While metonymy is a type of association (see Meaning), metaphor is a type of comparison. Let's say we hear, "Felix is a dream." In this case Felix is no more associated with dreams than we are. This sentence implies that Felix is like a dream in having all the good qualities we dream of.

Word History: Today's word is an English makeover of Greek metonymia "name change, metonymy", a word derived from meta "among, between, after" + onyma "name". We have discussed onyma recently, so let's focus on meta today. This word goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root medhi "middle" which came down to English as mid, the diminutive of which was middle centuries ago. In Latin we see it as medius "middle", a part of many English borrowed words, such as median, medieval, Mediterranean (= middle of the earth). Russian, did you ask? The Russian version of this root is mezhdu "between, among". (Between you and me, we need to thank Chris Berry for coming up with today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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