It seems that I am once again confused about the finer points of metonyms. The example I give my students is the phrase Today, Ottawa announced..., where Ottawa is a metonym for the Canadian government (because the two are closely-associated concepts).

But what about They went to the bedroom and had a good time? Is to have a good time a metonym for to have sex (aside from also being a euphemism)? Speaking of which—are euphemisms metonymic by definition (or at least a subset of metonymy)?

Also, I bought some sort of medicinal drink at Safeway yesterday and it's called "Hot Lemon Relief"—can relief be a metonym for (medicinal) drink?


During a discussion of my question, I've been able to ferret out an answer:

  1. As I already knew, the most basic example of metonymy is one idea that is closely associated with another, for instance, in Washington made a decision, Washington metonymically represents the American Government.
  2. The problem, however, seems to be arise where the relationship between the two terms is not established by consensus well enough or is slightly different than, as J.A. Cuddon defines it in Literary Terms and Literary Theory, "the name of an attribute or a thing is substituted for the thing itself" (510). Thus, in a product called "Hot Lemon Relief," Relief metonymically represents medicinal drink. However, to understand this representation fully, one would probably have to actually see the product packaging (whereas the previous example is underwritten by socio-cultural consensus).
  3. Finally, I had wondered whether euphemisms are metonymic (or a subset of metonymy). BraddSzonye convinced me to the contrary in the example I proposed: in They went to the bedroom and had a good time, the association between to have a good time and to have sex is, more than anything else, idiomatic. There does seem to be some cross-over between epithet and metonym in one example I found, where the colour red is associated with Communism (e.g. He's a red.). However, any euphemistic/dysphemistic overtones would be idiomatic, once again.
  4. On an unrelated note, in my research I have come across another very interesting figurative feature called hypallage, also known as transferred epithet, which semantically combines features of personification and metonymy. More information is available here and here.

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