What is Metonymy?

Metonymy occurs when a word or phrase is replaced with a different one which it is associated with.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Is it? Is it, really?


You’ve heard of shorthand- when you write something in an abbreviated way or use a similar-looking word to represent the actual word. Well, metonymy is the poetic version of shorthand. Metonymy occurs when a word or phrase is replaced with a different one which it is associated with. Basically, this works like a secret code. You even use this device all the time in everyday speech without even realizing it. Skeptical? Let’s throw out a few. Someone might ask their friend to “give them a hand.” In this case, “a hand” is code for “help.” Or, if you’re having a heated debate with someone you might reference how “The White House is having some serious issues.” In this case “The White House” is code for the President and the other people who work there. The physical White House is not alive, so it can’t make it’s own decisions. Alright, one more. Everyone knows the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword.” This is an example of metonymy because literally speaking, a pen is not stronger than a sword. But you don’t even think twice when you hear this line because you know that “pen” is a codeword for language and the power of words. See, you’ve been a metonymy mogul all along!


Now, channel your inner spy and try to decode the metonymy in the poems below.



The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard

And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,

Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.

And from there those that lifted eyes could count

Five mountain ranges one behing the other

Under the sunset far into Vermont.

And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,

As it ran light, or had to bear a load.

And nothing happened: day was all but done.

Call it a day, I wish they might have said

To please the boy by giving him the half hour

That a boy counts so much when saved from work.

His sister stood beside him in her apron

To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,

As if it meant to prove saws know what supper meant,

Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap -

He must have given the hand. However it was,

Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!

Half in appeal, but half as if to keep

The life from spilling.Then the boy saw all -

Since he was old enough to know, big boy

Doing a man's work, though a child at heart -

He saw all was spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -

The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"

So. The hand was gone already.

The doctor put him in the dark of ether.

He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.

And then - the watcher at his pulse took a fright.

No one believed. They listened to his heart.

Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.


Nine to Five


What I wouldn't give for a nine to five.

Biscuits in the right hand drawer,

tea breaks, and typist to mentally undress

The same faces. Somewhere to hang

your hat and shake you umbrella.

Cozy. Everything in its place.

Upgraded every few years. Hobbies.

Glass of beer at lunchtime

Pension to look forward to.

Two kids. Home-loving wife.

Bit on the side when the occasion arises

H.P Nothing fancy. Neat semi.

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