Suddenly, the theater became silent. Just like the breathless spectators.

I'm very much interested in how this rhetorical device would be classified.

At first, "the theater" is a totum pro parte for the spectators. However, by later mentioning "the breathless spectators" as if talking about another entity, the literary device is dismantled, as it were. I'm interested in this dismantling, and if it has a name.

I came across two candidate solutions, but they do not quite seem to fit. A paraprosdokian does not necessarily pertain to a literary device in the first part of the sentence, and a pataphor goes on to strengthen rather than weaken the previous metaphor. My personal best guess would be a subversive metonym, although I find some usage of this term for different cases of metonymy.

Does anybody here perchance have knowledge of a name for such a figure of speech?

  • I would call it subverted instead of subversive. Different meaning.
    – Robusto
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 22:55

4 Answers 4


The sentence is a synecdoche:

A whole is represented by naming one of its parts (genus named for species), or vice versa (species named for genus).

(From Silva Rhetoricae, synecdoche, emphasis mine.)

The fragment is a merismus:

The dividing of a whole into its parts.

(From Silva Rhetoricae, merismus.)

However, guessing from my rather glancing acquaintance with you and the terms you're using, I suspect you (or we) are down the rabbithole, which is to say, to borrow a metaphor from my quoted source, Silva Rhetoricae, that you (or we) are becoming lost in the forest of rhetoric. If necessary, I'll justify the claim by noting that paraprosdokian is not to my knowledge a term from classical Latin or Greek rhetoric, but is rather

...a clumsy, malformed, awkward semiliterate neologism.

(From Bill Casselman's Words of the World.)

No offense. To be fair, totum pro parte ('whole for a part', where the silence of the whole theater represents the silence of the spectators), seems probably to be an equitable division of synecdoche, the other half being the pars pro toto ('part for the whole'), even though the gussying up of both with Latin phrases seems gratuitous.

Having been fair, I'll only lift a russet eyebrow at pataphor before hying off with Fergus "to pierce the deep wood's woven shade".


At first the 'Theatre'is an example of metonymy — a figurative expression of something associated with the subject in terms of place, time or background, here the spectators. Cf.

• White House = US Govt.

But metonymy serves not merely referential function. There are many parts that can stand for the whole. Which part we pick out determines which aspect of the whole we are focussing on. However, we are one with you in considering the subsequent portion of the sentence not being a pataphor or paraprosdokian on the ground that there is no stretching of boundaries to land on a new thread as is the case with the former or there is no abrupt change, no punch line or unexpected twist as in the latter.

In "Just like the breathless spectators" we read the writer's intention to pinpoint just not to use part (spectators) to stand for the whole (theatre) but rather to pick out the particular characteristics namely 'silence' and what contributes most in that silence.

He cannot resist the temptation of elaborating the same as if, and makes use of a simile to drive home the issue of pervasive silence.

To me, there is no dismantling as such. If it is meant by "subversive metonymy" something left out, it is not the case here. You can at best view 'theater' an example of 'Personification'.


Paraprosdokian is the perfect word to describe what you've pointed to.

The phenomenon you've isolated is definitely a species of paraprosdokian, understood as "a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence, phrase, or larger discourse is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part" (here).

But I also agree with you that you've isolated a finer-grained phenomenon, a paraprosdokian that subverts an initial figure of speech (what you call the totem pro parte). I highly doubt there is a specific word for this, much less a need for one.

Subverted metonym is good for your particular example, which involves a metonym, but it doesn't name the phenomenon of subverting a figure generally. Maybe you could call the general device a figure-subverting paraprosdokian.


It is called metonimia , you transfer the attribute of one word to another.

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    Welcome to English Language & Usage. This answer was flagged as low-quality because of its length and content. Can you try to include reference or link (that can support your answer) and its essential part? Please take the tour and visit our help center for additional guidance.
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 4:37
  • By metonimia, do you mean metonymy? Whether you mean metonymy or not, adding a dictionary definition for the word you recommend would enable readers to gain a firmer grasp of the term than the brief descriptive phrase you supply above. The goal is to make answers at this site reasonably self-contained, instead of requiring readers to search elsewhere for definitions of suggested words.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 6:39

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