Synecdoche: The Art of Getting Eyeballs
I spent Monday evening watching the Broncos beat the tar out of the Raiders, and as I have a habit of procrastinating, hadn’t figured out what to write about at the time that I went to the watch party. Come halftime, I was still trying to figure out what I was going to write, and I turned to the girl next to me, who was an English major in college, and asked her opinion.
“What about Schenectady?” she said.
“What? The city in New York?”
“No, synecdoche. When a part refers to a whole.”
“I don’t know that word. That’s brilliant.”
So, congratulations, you get to learn a new word too. Or, if you already knew about synecdoche, you get to gloat that you knew something a Write Practice writer didn’t.
What Does Synecdoche Mean?
Synecdoche, in addition to being really challenging to spell, refers to the practice of using a part of something to refer to the whole of that something.
For example, the term, “getting eyeballs” is a synecdoche from the advertising world. Obviously the jeans brand, Wrangler, isn’t trying to remove and collect your eyeballs when they show a commercial with Drew Brees in their jeans. They are just trying to get you to pay attention. The term “eyeballs” as a reference to the viewer is an example of synecdoche.
Other examples of synecdoche include referring to the elderly as “gray beards,” or calling for a “head count” when you’re herding a group of first graders at the planetarium.
How to Use Synecdoche in Your Writing
You can use synecdoche to characterize your cast as well. After all, Captain Hook probably didn’t go by that moniker while he still had both hands.
Synecdoche also refers to the reverse, when you use a whole to refer to a part of the whole. This happens a lot in sports, like saying that Denver schooled Oakland in Monday night’s game. Obviously, the entire city of Denver did not decide to migrate en masse to Oakland and play a massive city-vs.-city game of football (although there might be something in that idea). Saying that Denver won Monday’s game refers to the Denver Broncos.
Similarly, Pittsburgh is going to the MLB playoffs, but clearly it’s just the Pirates who are in, not the whole city, although after a 20-year losing streak, it might as well be the whole city, because they are fired up.
Have you ever heard of synecdoche before? What is your favorite example of synecdoche?
Pick a sports team, any sports team. Could be professional, or it could be your eight-year-old nephew’s pee wee football team. Write about a major win or loss for fifteen minutes using as much synecdoche as possible. Post your practice in the comments and leave notes for your fellow writers.
About Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.