A more-than-common everyday rhetorical device is the use of a good ol’ metonyms. They can be used as an ‘othering’ tool, to shorten a reference, or be used sarcastically ad reductio a topic into a more casual light. It’s often much easier to identify someone using jargon to make a topic out of reach. The use of $5 words with multiple matrix style sentences is often enough for a reader to lose interest (or for the occasional know-it-all, hold it over other’s heads). However, metonyms are more common. A metoymn, is “a word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated. For example, Washington is a metonym for the federal government of the US”. Throughout a day you’ll trip over dozens of them. Often times, they will be used over and over without any forethought.

The first major way I see metonyms is used as an ‘othering’ tool. Othering, by in large, is the act of separating groups of people by making one group an outsider. This is often done negatively in part for the group being ‘othered’, but can also be used endearingly. In the lupus community, we often call each other “Lupies” instead of “people with lupus”. I know, not that ingenious, but it is a way in which we can talk about each other by separating ourselves with “normal” people. A metonym can often be seen metaphorically or even a sterotype. “Bleeding heart liberals”, often used derogatorily, refers more to the caring nature and community oriented beliefs of an opposing conservative group. Likewise, “gun-toting right-wing republicans”, references the beliefs concerning gun ownership and control of an opposing liberal group. In both cases, the person expressing the remark is not necessarily saying anything about the other group as much as they are saying something about themselves. The rhetor is purposefully ‘othering’ in order to differentiate themselves and most likely already engaging an audience who would agree with the difference.

The second way I’ve found metonyms used is a simple shortening of a much longer word or phrase. For instance, “Those guys over in bean town”, is much easier to say than Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America, Earth. Even “Boston”, is used to shorten that whole phrasal, but no one would talk like that anyway. Another example is calling someone a “Blue badge” in Seattle. This references and shortens the phrase, a person who is a full employee of Microsoft and not a vendor. That would be just too much of a mouthful. Heck, “mouthful” mean, to say a bunch of words that would be tedious to say. You can now imagine how often we all use metonyms to shorten everyday speech.

The third and last way I’ll give you all is the sarcastic ad reductio, a way of reducing a subject inappropriately. Much like the “bleeding hearts” and “gun-toting” used earlier, metonyms of this caliber are used sarcastically or negatively on part of the rhetor to make a topic, person, or group to seem insignificant. You’ve probably heard the term “ambulance chasers” used instead of “injury attorney” or maybe “doc” instead of “doctor”. The first one is fairly heavy handed in its used as an insult. The other, “doc”, reduces the formal title into a casual state and removes the respectful tone of address. While calling your person primary care physician “doc” could be considered endearing, calling an EMT “doc” as you’re being hauled away in an ambulance, is just insulting to the technician.

The next time you find yourself using a metonym really ask yourself “why?”. Are you using the term appropriately? Are you trying to insult someone or are you trying to generate a quick reference? Has this term been used before or are you creating one? Try to switch up your terms and see how others respond to the difference. You’ll be surprised how people will think your attitude on a subject has changed either more positively or negatively.