Which Word Wednesday: Metonym vs. Synonym

By January 18, 2012 culture, language No Comments
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Thanks, Peter!

Happy Thesaurus Day! Today is the day we observe the word treasury that was written by Peter Roget, born January 18, 1779. Roget’s Thesaurus was first published in April 1852, which begs the question: What did writers do to find synonyms before then?! I, for one, am happy to be living on this side of 1852.

How will I celebrate this felicity? I just may crack out a gift the Hubster gave me last year, The Thinker’s Thesaurus. It’s a mega-Thesaurus. I highly recommend it.

Another merriment on tap here at The Patch is Which Word Wednesday. Isn’t it fun that Thesaurus Day falls on Wednesday this year?! We get to celebrate the holiday and a word match up all at once.

In honor of the Peter’s birthday, we’ll consider metonym vs. synonym. Here are the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

metonym :: noun
a word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated

synonym :: noun
a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language

Both nouns refer to words that can be used to substitute other words. Word association is key—you should be able to use one word or the other with the intended meaning remaining the same.

A metonym is the term for words that are more general or loosely associated with each other. The OAD expounds: “For example, Washington is a metonym for the federal government of the U.S.”

A synonym is the term for words that are near substitutes for one another. Once again, the OAD provides insight: “For example shut is a synonym of close.”

Roget’s Thesaurus as well as The Thinker’s Thesaurus are sources to turn to when you need help finding that perfect word to communicate clearly. But I see the classic version as the source for synonyms and the lesser-known version as the source for metonyms. For example, if we look at the word creative, we find the following entries:

The Thesaurus offers 11 options for substitution in its entry:
inventive, imaginative, innovative, experimental, original; artistic, expressive, inspired, visionary; enterprising, resourceful

The Thinker’s Thesaurus offers two loosely related words in its entry:
(1) and/or original adj.: Promethean [Prometheus was the Titan god of forethought, who, based on some legends, was entrusted with the task of molding mankind out of clay.]

(2) as in resourceful person n.: debrouillard [French].

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What’s my WWW verdict? If you are looking for basic substitutions to avoid repetitive speech, use a Thesaurus; if you need a witty term or reference, check out The Thinker’s Thesaurus.

What’s your verdict? Are you a Thesaurus reader? Will you celebrate Thesaurus Day? Do share in the comments.

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Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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