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In association with the question on Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Senator Rand Paul in the Time Magazine article “2013 Time 100” that I posted earlier today, I have an additional question about the expression “He is a voice of reason awakening the public” in her remark:

He is a voice of reason awakening the public to what must be done to restore our prosperity and preserve the blessings of liberty for future generations. His brand of libertarian-leaning conservatism attracts young voters, and recently he inspired the nation with his Capraesque filibuster demanding basic answers about our use of drones.”

I felt somewhat uneasy with the expression, “he is a voice,” because you as an animated being can have a voice, but you cannot be a voice which is an abstract, unanimated ‘object.’

I think there are many similar (possibly metaphoric) expressions like “he is a voice of reason / a mirror of conscience / a walking encyclopedia” that are current. But is the [animated being = unanimated object] equation grammatically right as well as logically congruent?

If so, how different is “he is a voice of reason awakening the public” from “he has a voice of reason awakening the public”?

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@ Yoichi: I'm partly in agreement with Andrew that it's a synedoche ("he" is personified as "a voice"). But it's worth noting that "is the voice of reason" occurs twice as often in Google Books as the "a voice" version. To an extent, "reason" is being metaphorically personified as something which can have "a voice". –  FumbleFingers Apr 21 '13 at 16:31
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@FumbleFingers: Or, here's another perspective. "He is a voice of reason" contains a double--if not a triple--synecdoche. The first is "he" and "voice"--whole to part. The second is "voice" to "reason"--part to whole. The third, perhaps, is the singular "a voice" and the implied and plural "many voices" (some of which by implication are unreasonable)--part to whole. What thinkest thou? –  rhetorician Apr 21 '13 at 18:37
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@rhetorician: I think that's an excellent way of "deconstructing the construction". Your final step goes a long way to articulating the tiny difference in nuance occasioned by using a rather than the. It somewhat suggests that there are many voices - some reasonable, some unreasonable, and maybe many others that can't even be placed on that continuum. Whereas the is more evocative of a Plato's Cave scenario - there's just one "reason/reality" (with one "true voice"), obscured by babbling voices and other "shadowy things". –  FumbleFingers Apr 21 '13 at 20:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is an example of synedoche.

Synecdoche (pron.: /sɪˈnɛkdəkiː/, si-NEK-də-kee; from Greek synekdoche (συνεκδοχή), meaning "simultaneous understanding") is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something is used to refer to the whole of something, or vice-versa. Specifically, it is used in one of the following ways:

  • Part of something is used to refer to the whole thing (pars pro toto), or
  • A thing (a "whole") is used to refer to part of it (totum pro parte) (Use of the term "The Internet" to refer to the World Wide Web, which is only a part of the Internet), or
  • A specific class of thing is used to refer to a larger, more general class, or
  • A general class of thing is used to refer to a smaller, more specific class, or
  • A material is used to refer to an object composed of that material ("he wore Spandex" to refer to someone wearing pants made of Spandex), or
  • A container is used to refer to its contents. (Very common in U.S. government circles; the Defense Department being referred to by its headquarters building, e.g. "The Pentagon announced that..." used as shorthand for "The Department of Defense announced that..." or "The White House announced a new policy regarding..." rather than saying "The office of the President of the United States announced...", or "The president announced...")

[Wikipedia]

In this case, it's pars pro toto. His voice stands for him (or him using his voice).

With regard to the difference between the synecdochal He is a voice and the literal He has a voice, the use of a rhetorical device is designed to make the image stronger. All that is important is what the voice is saying.

See John 1:23 for what is possibly the archetypical example — which Sarah Palin almost certainly had in mind.

He said: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah.

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Good call on John 1:23 there. –  tchrist Apr 21 '13 at 15:10

Consider that this could be a metaphor.

(though, a synedoche seems to be a specific form of metaphor)

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players

The reason why I'm not convinced this is a synedoche is because I can rationalize that is it not "pars pro toto".

The WWW is *part of * the Internet. Spandex refers to "pants made of Spandex". But the speaker is not naturally classified as 'Reason' or its parts. The speaker's presentation as "the voice of reason" is a metaphor.

"The voice of reason", being itself a synedoche, perhaps extends its nature to that-which-is the voice via metaphor. (this is the best counter I can present to my own argument).

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