In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Metonymy

  • Introduction
  • Bibliography of Metaphor and Metonymy
  • Metonymy Database
  • Defining and Delimiting Metonymy

Linguistics Metonymy
Klaus-Uwe Panther
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0252


Metonymy (Greek μετωνυμία, Latin denominatio) has been known as a rhetorical trope since Greek antiquity. The online Oxford English Dictionary defines this trope as “[a] figure of speech characterized by the action of substituting for a word or phrase denoting an object, action, institution, etc., a word or phrase denoting a property or something associated with it [ . . . ].” In modern linguistics, especially cognitive linguistics, metonymy (like metaphor) is considered as not just a rhetorical trope used for various stylistic purposes, but as a figure of thought (referred to as “conceptual metonymy”). Metonymies are usually notated as SOURCE FOR TARGET (i.e., the conventional meaning of a word or expression functions as the source vehicle for accessing a target meaning) as in the newspaper headline Brussels Proposes EU Antideforestation Fund, where the city of Brussels stands for the target meaning “the EU commission (located in Brussels)”. The relationship between the source and the target meaning of a metonymy is usually characterized as one of association or contiguity. In contrast, metaphor is normally represented as TARGET IS SOURCE, a notation indicating that the target meaning of a metaphor is conceptually organized like the source (e.g., in Shakespeare’s famous metaphor THE WORLD IS A STAGE—see separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Cognitive Linguistics” by Vyvyan Evans). There is no unified conception of metonymy, but most scholars agree that metonymy involves an associative link between two meaning components within one conceptual domain or frame, whereas metaphor is constituted by usually multiple mappings across two domains or frames. It has, however, to be noted that no completely satisfactory definition of what constitutes one domain or frame in contrast to distinct domains or frames has been provided thus far. Given these definitional problems, the categories “metonymy” and “metaphor” should not be regarded as “classical” Aristotelian categories in the sense of being definable by a set of necessary and jointly sufficient properties, but as prototypes with central and more peripheral members and fuzzy boundaries.

General Overviews

Conceptual and linguistic metonymy and its role in language structure and use have been covered in monographs but also, more succinctly, in Handbook Articles and Book Chapters.

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