Hello! Sorry for the delay with today’s post. This has been crunch time for my teaching schedule at the end of the quarter. I have been swamped with testing, grades and endless paperwork. I am trying to catch up with my blog posts.
Today I would like to provide the second part of my analysis of synecdoche. The last time I discussed examples from the human body, land, furniture and buildings. This time I explain examples from writing, money, tool, weapons and machines.
the fine print
In many legal documents, the details of the agreement are very long and complex so they are often printed in small letters. This is usually referred to as the fine print. Thus the small print represents the details of a process or agreement. There is also usually a negative sense to the phrase since people are sometimes fooled by not reading the fine print in a document before they sign it.
Example: Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a document of 2700 pages. Members of Congress had to read a lot of fine print before they could vote on it to be passed into law.
A signature is a handwritten name. It represents the person’s identity and approval of the document that is signed. For politicians, the issues that they are most passionate about are sometimes called their signature issues. Their signature represents their interest in those issues.
Example: For many Republicans, the signature issues are taxes and government spending.
One of the oldest examples of synecdoche in English dates to a British play written in 1839. In this case the pen refers to the power of written documents to cause or end wars, while the sword refers to the power of military weapons to fight a war. Thus, saying that the pen is mightier than the sword indicates that diplomacy is more powerful than military solutions in times of war.
Example: For most American presidents, trouble in the Middle East is a difficult situation to handle. Some prefer military options while others say that the pen is mightier than the sword.
hit the pocketbook
A pocketbook is a type of wallet for holding money. When politicians talk about a bad economy affecting the finances of average Americans, they may say that it will hit the pocketbook, meaning their wallet will have less money than usual. In this case, the container represents the important contents inside the container.
Example: The economic crisis of 2008 hit the pocketbook of millions of Americans.
Purses for holding money used to be simple leather bags tied with a string. In an old phrase from the Middle Ages, holding the purse strings meant to control the money in the household. As an example of synecdoche, the purse strings represent the money contained in the purse.
Example: Congress likes to hold the purse strings for funding entitlement programs such as Social Security.
Tools and Weapons
We use forks to eat our food. In these days of trying to reduce transportation and energy costs of moving food from farms to our groceries stores, politicians have created the phrase of reducing the costs of field to fork. The field represents the farms; the fork represents our eating of the food in our homes.
Example: Whenever gas prices go up, some politicians support the development of local farmers’ markets to reduce the costs of field to fork.
A saber is a type of sword. When some members of Congress begin speaking of going to war against other countries, we may say that they are beginning to rattle their sabers. The sabers represent war or the willingness to go to war.
Example: After the War in Iraq ended in 2010, some conservative politicians began to rattle their sabers against Iran.
In some cases, when people go to vote in their communities, they must pull a lever on a small machine that records their votes. In a common phrase, we refer to the process of voting as pulling the lever. The lever represents the entire voting process.
Example: In a presidential campaign, each political party tries to persuade voters to pull the lever for their candidates.
Before the digital age, radios had a dial that showed the frequencies of each radio station. To go across the dial meant to listen to a wide range of music and news stations. In a modern figurative phrase, to go across the dial means to survey many types of political views on a certain topic. The dial thus represents differing political opinions.
Example: In the 2008 presidential election, people from all across the dial voted for Barack Obama.
Wires have long been used in the construction of radio, television and computer equipment. To say that an office is wired, for example, means that it has the latest technology, especially the best Internet connections and website access. If a campaign is wired, this means that the campaign staff are connecting to voters through websites and social media outlets.
Example: In 2008, some pundits believed that Barack Obama’s wired 2008 campaign helped him win the election.
I think most American English speakers would not even realize that these examples I have described in the last two posts are types of figurative language since they are so commonly used. Once again, I believe these uses of synecdoche illustrate how easily our minds can understand non-literal language and how common synecdoche is in the English language. I often wonder how speakers of English as a second language know what the heck we are talking about most of the time. As always, questions and comments are welcome!
Next time: A Holiday Smorgasbord of Metaphors!