Sunday 27 June 2010


Pass the milk

Synecdoche: you you refer to the whole of something when you just mean a part of it, or vice versa. "Whole for part, part for whole" is a shorter way of putting it.

He was a famous face. (The whole of him was famous.)
Rendoosia will stand firm! (Its people will.)

Another form of synechdoche is container for the thing contained:

Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction. (it was her clothes that went AWOL.)
The speaker addressed a packed hall. (He addressed the people in it.)
The kettle’s boiled! (It was the water that boiled.)

And then there's thing contained for the container:

Pass the milk. (You mean the bottle the milk's in.)

And how about these? They seem to fit here. An adjective takes in the meaning of a noun it once qualified, but is now usually dropped. If you say "The atmosphere was fraught" or "I’m feeling rather fraught", listeners will understand that the atmosphere was strained, and that you feel tense. The entire phrase "fraught with tension" is taken as read. "Explicit" has come to mean explicitly sexual, "graphic" means graphically violent. Or sometimes a noun from an adjective-noun pair takes on the meaning of the whole.

a travesty (of justice)

abuses for human-rights abuses

acute for acutely ill (acute beds)

aesthetic for aesthetically pleasing

albatross for albatross round neck, or millstone (However, many scientists believe the project is a waste of money and will end up an albatross for the medical research community. Guardian February 23, 2006)

ashen for ashen faced, ashy pale (presumably pale grey like wood-ash)

astronomical As in "The cost was astronomical", meaning "astronomically high". From the vast numbers bandied about in astronomy.

attitude for bad or negative attitude

Augean task An Augean task is as difficult as cleaning out the Augean stables was for Hercules. He had to complete 10 (or was it 7?) labours, one of which was cleaning out these enchanted stables which became dirtier the more he toiled.
beady for beady eyed “Just ask a few beady questions.” Jeremy Bullmore Guardian 4/7/07 Men will now become such suspicious quarries, beadily eluding marriage. C Bennet, Guardian May 25, 2006

beset for beset by problems

bitter “they will bitterly defend their young” New Scientist 29 April 06 From bitter quarrel? “Sold much of Broadway Market to private developer. Bitter evictions followed.” Evening Standard May 4, 2006 Bitterly contested?

bitter for bitterly quarrelling rather than embittered “has split Socialists into increasingly bitter factions”

blown out of proportion for blown up out of all proportion (like blowing up a photograph, not a bridge) Guardian December 31, 2005

breakneck growth for breakneck rate of growth

broached for broached the subject Have you broached x about y? Merriam Webster: to pierce (as a cask) in order to draw the contents; also : to open for the first time b : to open up or break into (as a mine or stores)) When you have broached something you have probably created a breach - once more into the etc.

brooding for “broodingly handsome”. Not at all the same thing as broody.

budget for low budget

bypass for heart bypass

calibre for high-calibre (a calibre cast)
carbon emissions, capture etc for carbon dioxide emissions

cellophane for cellophane wrapped There are no cellophane flowers, poignant plaques or sombre marble headstones. Guardian, Saturday August 19 2006 Emma Cook

chamber for chamber pot (obsolete.)

character building for building good character. Character building experiences - like spending several years at boarding school or abseiling down a cliff face - are always assumed to encourage desirable character traits. A spell in prison might be character building, encouraging the development of aggression, deception, callousness etc. Or would this be destruction of character?

character for good character

charge for child (means child in your charge)

chauvinism for male chauvinism

cheese plant It’s a Swiss cheese plant because it’s full of holes like Gruyère.

chronic for chronically ill. (The hospital has a shortage of chronic beds.)

class for top class

comfortable for comfortably off

conducive for conducive to happiness (It wasn’t very conducive)

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