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This happens specifically often in the technology press:

  • There's no point trying to ascribe motives to what Redmond [instead of "Microsoft"] does.
  • We'll see shortly if Cupertino [instead of "Apple"] thinks likewise ...

I'm certain its use is much wider though I can't think of many examples right now. Using "Detroit" as another name for the US auto industry is slightly wider:

  • Who says that Detroit does not sell cars Americans want to drive?

Anyway, I have a suspicion there is a name for this so what is it?

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1  
This is an interesting question... :| –  Alenanno May 26 '11 at 16:39
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Or "Washington reacted strongly to Moscow's actions last Tuesday, but for the meantime, Beijing's reaction remains cool." –  NateMPLS May 26 '11 at 17:10
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"Houston, we have a problem." –  Jon Purdy May 27 '11 at 4:30
    
My favourite (from James Bond?): “Vauxhall” to refer to MI6. –  Konrad Rudolph May 27 '11 at 9:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 32 down vote accepted

You may be looking for metonymy.

If you're looking for other examples, governments are often referred to like this—at least, Westminster for the UK parliament, and Washington for the US government. (In fact, looking up Westminster on Wikipedia was how I found metonym.)

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Your examples Westminster and Washington are very good and made me think of another, Fleet Street for the British Press. –  hippietrail May 26 '11 at 16:44
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@hippietrail: And Wall Street for the financial industry :) –  John Bartholomew May 26 '11 at 16:45
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And Madison Avenue for the advertising industry. And any number of smaller ones, like Jermyn Street for the fancy men's shirt retailing industry. –  Joel Spolsky May 27 '11 at 0:59
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Hollywood is perhaps the most famous city metonym. –  Colin Pickard May 27 '11 at 10:15
    
@hippietrail - and Fleet Street is still commonly used even though there hasn't been a paper based there since 1989. –  e100 May 27 '11 at 12:16

This is an example of synecdoche.

In these examples, the company HQ is a part of the city as a whole. The city is being used as a metaphor for the company.

I wonder if these are being used in a slightly euphemistic way. It allows one to refer to the company without referring to directly, perhaps granting license to say something negative about the company with imagined impunity.

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A nod to answers pointing to metonymy as the answer. Synecdoche is a form of metonymy. –  Dancrumb May 26 '11 at 16:39
    
Sometimes it's used as an aside eg Redmond or 'the chocolate factory' (for google) or just as shorthand, 'the pentagon' for the US military high command. –  mgb May 26 '11 at 16:40
    
I really love this word but in Google searches metonymy came up much more often. I'll have to think about it some more... –  hippietrail May 26 '11 at 17:02
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@hippietrail: I wouldn't take popularity as an indicator of technical correctness! –  user1579 May 26 '11 at 17:55
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note: synecdoche does not rhyme with brioche. It's sih-NEK-duh-kee –  nohat Jul 15 '11 at 20:59

To answer the question of difference between Dancrumb's synecdoche and John Bartholomew's metonym, Wikipedia describes it thusly:

When the distinction is made, it is the following: when A is used to refer to B, it is a synecdoche if A is a component of B and a metonym if A is commonly associated with B but not actually part of its whole.

Redmond and Cupertino are not part of their associated companies. Therefore, metonym is the more appropriate term. Furthermore, both appear on the list of metonyms.

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The people making the case for synecdoche are arguing the opposite, that the company headquarters is part of the associated town. –  Kevin May 26 '11 at 21:58
    
@Iceman: They are pretty interchangeable. If you were to make a distinction, the distinction would be what is in my answer. The definition for synecdoche does seem to include either pattern so... it is very possible Wikipedia is just being incorrectly pedantic on one specific page. –  MrHen May 26 '11 at 22:43
    
So is “pars pro toto” a synonym for synecdoche? My teachers at school could never agree, and the remark in the Wikipedia article is completely unintelligible to me. –  Konrad Rudolph May 27 '11 at 9:55

Placenames (specifically) in this context are toponyms, (the original sense, before the word referred to just 'place names in general'. But toponymy is the study of place names, so not appropriate here: perhaps a new word needs to be coined for the trope.

(thanks for the suggestions)

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@Tim, this is really more appropriate as a comment. –  KitFox Jul 15 '11 at 14:01
    
@Tim, no offence meant, but I think this would be more appropriate as a comment rather than a full-fledged answer. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 15 '11 at 14:01
    
@Kit/Alain: do you really think so? It seemed to me a tentative answer (toponym) to the question asked, though the discussion seems to have veered off. I'd value your views. –  TimLymington Jul 15 '11 at 14:12
    
Well, if it's an answer, you probably shouldn't say that it's not. :-) –  KitFox Jul 15 '11 at 14:14
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@Tim, if you believe toponymy qualifies for an answer, then I'll have to disagree. Hence my down vote. As you actually seem to have found out on your own, toponymy is a science studying place names and more precisely focusing on their origin and meaning. For instance in the sentence "Toponymy in England shows that many place names in the British Isles have a substrate of Celtic origin". –  Alain Pannetier Φ Jul 15 '11 at 14:41

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