[ met-uh-nim ]
/ ˈmɛt ə nɪm /
Save This Word!

a word or phrase used in metonymy, a figure of speech in which the name of one object or concept is used for that of another to which it is related:“The crown” is a metonym for “royalty.”
Do you know the difference between everyday US and UK terminology? Test yourself with this quiz on words that differ across the Atlantic.
Question 1 of 7
In the UK, COTTON CANDY is more commonly known as…

Origin of metonym

First recorded in 1830–40; back formation from metonymy
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a metonym?

A metonym is a word or phrase that is used to stand for something that it’s associated with or related to. For example, the White House is a metonym for the current U.S. president or presidential administration.

Metonyms are figures of speech (words or phrases used in expressive, often non-literal ways). The use of metonyms is called metonymy.

Metonyms can be specific (like using Hollywood to mean the U.S. film industry) or general (like using suit to mean a businessperson). A metonym is one of many rhetorical devices that we use daily in ordinary speech and writing, often without realizing it.

Metonym vs. synecdoche

If you’ve ever told a friend, “I feel like eating Taco Bell tonight,” then you’ve used a metonym. You didn’t literally want to eat Taco Bell, the company. You wanted to eat food from Taco Bell. Of course, you didn’t need to explain that to your friend, because metonyms are a common way of saying things more expressively or just more simply. We do it all the time without noticing it.

Metonym is a back-formation of metonymy, which comes from the Greek metōnymía, meaning “change of name.” And that’s exactly what a metonym does—it swaps the name of something with a related term.

One common way of doing this is using a specific location as shorthand for an institution associated with that location. For example: Washington for the U.S. government; Wall Street for the U.S. financial sector; the Kremlin for the Russian president or administration; city hall for one’s local government.

Another way of forming a metonym is using an object to represent something it’s associated with, like using the crown to mean a particular monarch. In the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword,” pen is a metonym for the written word, and sword is a metonym for violence. Even some very common expressions that we don’t think of as figures of speech are actually metonyms. For example, “the pot is boiling” really means the water in the pot is boiling.

Sometimes, we substitute a whole entity for one part of it, like when we use heads to represent people in count heads. This is called a synecdoche, and it can also involve substituting the part for the whole, the general for the specific, or the specific for the general. (Some English major-types consider a synecdoche a type of metonym, while others think the two concepts are entirely separate.)

Metonyms are important to the way we speak and write because they can help us to simplify things, or to add nuances that wouldn’t come across if we just used the word itself.

Did you know ... ?

Even the seemingly ordinary word money started as a metonym. Money comes from the Latin word monēta, referring to money or a mint. Monēta, though, originally meant “admonisher.” It became connected with currency in Ancient Rome because coins were minted in the temple of the goddess Juno Monēta (Juno the Admonisher). Monēta came to be a metonym for the mint, and eventually came to mean the money itself.

What are real-life examples of metonym?

Still unsure about these figures of speech? Here are some more real-life examples of metonyms.

What other words are related to metonym?

Quiz yourself!

What word or phrase is being used as a metonym in the following sentence?

“Silicon Valley is expected to avoid the heavy losses seen in other industries across the country.”

A. Silicon Valley
B. heavy losses
C. other industries
D. the country

How to use metonym in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for metonym

/ (ˈmɛtənɪm) /

a word used in a metonymy. For example the bottle is a metonym for alcoholic drink
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012