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.


Photo by net_efekt

“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.

  • Sorry, I don’t do sports. I can do loss though.
    How many times can you keep a crying child quiet?

    How many ways can you answer the question, “Where is my mommy?” How many times do you answer before you go crazy?

    How do you hide your children, protect them, when they themselves are the one thing that puts them in the most danger?

    The answers are simple.

    As many times as you have to.

    As many ways as they ask. She’s dead. She was killed, She’s in Heaven. She can’t be here right now. If you be very quiet, you’ll hear her.

    You don’t go crazy from the asking. You go crazy when they stop asking.

    If you are alone in the effort, you do your damnedest. You try to keep them alive. You try to stay alive, because your death means their deaths. You try…

    Your damnedest…

    I held the bloody body of my three-year old child close. I felt as dark and broken inside as was the tunnel in which we hid. I felt the weight of a hundred thousand cuddles, kisses, tears. I could see his eyes, in thousands of shades, each painting a different emotion. All painting memories. All of my body shook with pain and denial, but my soul spoke, saying that he suffers no more, that he has reached a place without fear and without danger. My one-year old shook his brother, and stared at me, as if to say, “Why won’t Bubby play?”.

    • I love this. It’s just sad and the narrator’s monologue was really filled with emotion. It’s very easy to tell that this death broke him.

      • Thank you. I put it up so quickly, I really didn’t know how well it came out.

    • gwynfryn

      Wonderfully dark. Makes me wonder: what are they hiding from? Are the mother and brother’s deaths linked? How did they die? Very emotional and full of a creeping kind of sadness.

      • I like to see it came out as intended. Thanks for reaffirming this.

    • Esme Orange

      You have got me on the “I can do loss though.” I really liked.
      The ending it is a little bit more obscure, I think it could both ways, personally I feel that it could work out better to a less tragic and a more mundane ending, I think that tragedy gains much more weigh on the fragments of the daily life. but would a different solution I suppose.

      • Sorry I have some trouble understanding you.

        The dark and obscurity was intentional, firstly because I haven’t really thought too much about this story line yet. It also fits the piece. Things are definitely dark.

        What good would a mundane ending do?

        And, I’m guessing you are saying that tragedy is most realistic when the characters have interacted in daily life for a while. I can agree with this, and I wouldn’t leave it like this were it to go in a story.

        Thanks for the comment, and sorry if I didn’t understand something you said.

        • Esme Orange

          I think it was my fault, I hadn’t fully grasped your ending yesternight. Now that I have re-read it it is making much more sense, It is a rather sad ending, and I think it fits the story as it did.

  • Hi! 🙂 Here’s mine:


    I felt my hands getting cold and sweat breaking out of my body. I watched helplessly as Chicago fought against the inevitable. If it were any other day I’d feel nothing but immense pride. They fought the entire season without their star player and injuries haunted the rest of the roster and still they did not give up. But this was not just any other day.

    I watched the clock dwindle down to zero. Then the buzzer sounded and it was game over. Chicago lost to Miami and the latter will be moving on to the next round, and probably the NBA Finals.

    The American Airlines Arena was brimming with cheers and frenzied fans. Their team was another step closer to another championship. I closed my eyes and I tried to regulate my breathing.

    “So,” a voice next to me said.

    I opened my eyes and looked at Eddie. His face was like a map – a hundred
    wrinkles ran like roads. His left eye was milky white and his body seemed to be
    made up of skin and bones. “So,” he said again. “We had a deal, eh?”

    I nodded. My voice seemed to have been lost. My eyes traced the Chicago players walking back to the locker room with heads bowed in defeat.

    “If Miami wins, I win. And if I win, well, you know what’s at stake,” he smiled,
    showing more gums than teeth.


    Before I could say anything, the lights flickered madly and the world seemed to scream
    at me. The ground beneath shook violently and then darkness.

    I opened my eyes and I felt pain all over. I—I couldn’t see with my left eye. I
    looked up and I saw…myself. I was staring at myself. I watched myself look at
    me with a smug smile. I watched myself stand up.

    “This here’s a nice body you got, boy,” I heard myself say. “Too bad you’ve to lost it, eh?”

    “I don’t understand.” My voice sounded hoarse and weak. It sounded very much like Eddie’s. I looked down at my liver spot peppered hands. “No, no, please.”

    “A bet’s a bet. We swore with our blood. If I win, I take your body with me. Don’t
    worry lad. I think that vessel still has about a month left in it,” he said

    I felt my hands getting cold and sweat breaking out of my fragile body. I watched
    helplessly as Eddie leaves with my body.

    • Nice job of making the story interesting. Of course, I can’t help but wonder how the bet was made to start with.

      You switch tense towards the end. Watches these, they can be disorienting to readers.

      Other than that, I think it is told well.

  • Yvette Carol

    No, I’d never heard of that word either, until now. I always seem to learn something new from you, Liz!

    • It is just a specific type of metaphor. And, as you know, metaphors and similes help create… Symbolism!

      Yah! Symbolism!

    • Esme Orange

      Charlie Kaufman has a movie called Synecdoche, New York and it is amazing. It made me want to watch again!

  • George Wu

    Touchdown. Game and
    Set. Yes. Berkeley just owned Stanford again in college
    football. “GO BEARS!” I must say it is proud to be part of school
    that gets the axe for the winning game.
    Looks like we chopped Stanford down again. We led the score by three touchdowns. How can that be happening? It is obvious that Cal is godsend. I still remember the first down by Stanford caused
    people’s eyeball to be exploded. As
    expected, we are at the Cal stadium. How
    can anyone not gorge their eyes out when Stanford scores any point. We all lifted our feet whenever Cal
    scores. Based on that, it seems that we
    have an advantage in moral when it comes to the game. Sometimes, I do wonder if our mouths are
    causing a stir even among the Cal football team. If that is the case, we might be doing the
    team a disservice. But oh well. I can clearly see that we won anyway.

    Next up is of course the time of our life. We need to be the best in everything we
    do. We see the team elevate their
    confidence when they raised their chests to show us how great Cal football
    really is. What if that is simply a
    dream and that the outcome between Stanford and Cal is short lived? Who is scared of an axe anyway. Either case, the outcome is settled. Cal has
    won the game. Tremors roared throughout
    the stadium, colors of blue and gold flying everywhere in my face. I do not know of another time that has
    happened. I can only say that how good
    it was to be back in college. Looks like
    I still have ways to go for replacement.
    Perhaps I should create a time machine or reverse aging mechanism to
    bring me back to the old days, surrounded by young women. Hugh Hefner should got it made.

  • Very useful and supportive article. I wish I can do all of that in a short period of time.

  • Susan

    Love this challenge! Will try to explore this next.

  • all the soft skills that we need to reflect and draw from practical