Synecdoche For Songwriting… What?

What in the world is synecdoche (se-NEK-da-key)?  In recent posts we’ve talked about figures of speech and how they are helpful tools to have at your disposal when writing lyrics. Don’t let the word scare you away, synecdoche is actually quite common in our everyday language.

Synecdoche is a figure of speech that simply substitutes either the part for the whole, or the whole for the part.  Here are ways that synecdoche shows up in our everyday language:

  • A part of something is used to refer to the whole thing.  Example:  “Nice wheels.” …  actually referring to the entire car, not just the wheels.  Or one of the more famous examples: “Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears.”
  • A thing (a “whole”) is used to refer to part of it.  Example: “The hospital tried to revive him”.   Literally, it was not the hospital, but the people working at the hospital, that tried to revive him, but “hospital” is used to refer to the individual doctors and nurses working there.
  • A specific class of thing is used to refer to a larger, more general class.  Example: the trademark “Band-Aid”, for any variety of adhesive bandage, or “bug” for any kind of insect.
  • A general class of thing is used to refer to a smaller, more specific class.  Example:  “truck” for any four-wheel drive vehicle.  Or how about a tricky one:  “He’s good people.” (Here, the word “people” is used to denote a specific instance of people, i.e. a person. So the sentence would be interpreted as, “He’s a good person.”)
  • A material is used to refer to an object composed of that material.  Example:  “threads” for clothing, “lead” for bullet, or “wood” for a certain type of golf club.
  • A container is used to refer to its contents.  a “keg” for a keg of beer.  Or “barrel” for a barrel of oil.
To follow are a few lyric line examples from popular songs:  “The canvas (sail) can do miracles” (Cross),”Diamond Bracelets Woolworth (a variety store) doesn’t sell.’ (Fields)  See if you can find more in songs you listen to.
As you scan your first draft, get into the habit of looking for opportunities to substitute a nickname, a brand name, a place name, or some significant part for the whole.
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