For example, "We're competing for attention with teenagers who would rather be playing Angry Birds," or "You need to explain this in a way that your grandmother who thinks the internet works by magic would understand."

What these really mean is, "We're competing for attention with teenagers who would rather be playing on their mobile phones or doing something else", and "You need to explain this in a way that anyone would understand, even if they don't understand how the internet works at all."

The speaker has no idea whether the other person's grandmother understands the internet or is even alive. But they use that phrase in an attempt to be slightly humorous. (The examples above aren't very funny, of course, but they might make people titter if they are said in the right way.)

I thought this might be synecdoche, or one of those other Greek terms, but it's not. I am wondering whether there is a term for it?

Edited to add:

I think it is synecdoche after all, and the best way to describe this exact type of construction is "facetious synecdoche".

(I should have made it clearer that what I wanted was a noun or noun phrase that describes this exact type of construction. I didn't want a word or phrase that describes this type of construction and lots of other ones as well, such as just "facetious".)

  • A vain attempt at humour? Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 7:12
  • Would these remarks not be held to be facetious in that they are "not meant to be taken seriously or literally"? Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 7:14
  • Yes, they are facetious. But that is just an adjective that describes them. I want to know if there is a term (a noun) that means this particular type of rhetorical device.
    – user115753
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 8:30
  • Sure sounds like hyperbole to me.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 12:52
  • The second example is hyperbole but the first is not, surely.
    – user115753
    Commented Apr 14, 2015 at 9:45

3 Answers 3


"Angry Birds" in this case is indeed an example of synecdoche- it is a representative part of the larger "silly things to do with your time and electronics". To claim that your grandmother thinks the internet is run on magic would be simple hyperbole, I'd say.

  • You may be right about the first one. But what if the second one was "You need to explain this in a way that your aged and clueless grandmother would understand"? (This is very rude, but that is not the point.) Would that be synecdoche? Surely not, because she might not even exist. It is a kind of facetious synecdoche/hyperbole, I guess ... but I was hoping that there was a single term for it.
    – user115753
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 10:56
  • Yes, I think 'hyperbole' usually connotes the farcical. It's tempting to suggest 'terminological inexactitude', but a famous orator has imbued that with a large connotation of fibbing. Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 16:33
  • Oh, now I see your real question there, @user1310503! I think "aged and clueless grandmother" would be synechdoche as well: she is the representative part of the whole, which is "least informed hypothetical user".
    – bobro
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 16:37

Well, there is an extreme technique based on absurd situations, but that might be farther than you intend to go:

Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: "reduction to absurdity"; pl.: reductiones ad absurdum), also known as argumentum ad absurdum (Latin: argument to absurdity), is a common form of argument which seeks to demonstrate that a statement is true by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its denial,1 or in turn to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance. First recognized and studied in classical Greek philosophy (the Latin term derives from the Greek "εις άτοπον απαγωγή" or eis atopon apagoge, "reduction to the impossible", for example in Aristotle's Prior Analytics),1 this technique has been used throughout history in both formal mathematical and philosophical reasoning, as well as informal debate.

The "absurd" conclusion of a reductio ad absurdum argument can take a range of forms:

*Rocks have weight, otherwise we would see them floating in the air.*

*Society must have laws, otherwise there would be chaos.*

*There is no smallest positive rational number, because* if there were, then it could be divided by two to get a smaller one.*


  • This is slightly related to what I am talking about, but it is not the same. The constructions I am talking about are not a type of argument. They are a rhetorical device like synecdoche or metaphor.
    – user115753
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 8:35

Your example statements are “satirical

Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.

Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.

A feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm—-"in satire, irony is militant"—-but parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. This "militant" irony or sarcasm often professes to approve of (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist wishes to attack. See Wikipedia satire

satire noun: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

synonyms: mockery, ridicule, derision, scorn, caricature see Google satire

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.