I am choosing between two sentences

"We now define a function which in essence is already in Dirichlet's work."

"We now define a function which in essence is already in Dirichlet."

The principle of parsimony suggests that, all else being equal, the second sentence is better. I feel that I've seen the second construct many times before, but I cannot recall or find specific examples. I guess it's a type of metonym, but I don't know if it has a specialized name.

My question is, am I correct in recalling that the second construction is quite common? As a follow-up, which I understand is subjective, is the second construct formal enough for writing a journal article?

  • To assume that Dirichlet means his work and his very style, you need to wait until his name is very well known. Of course, you could start that trend yourself, but it has to be ready to take off. Alternately, you could stipulate, when you first introduce his process or distributions, that "I will refer to Dirichlet as a reference to his work." – Yosef Baskin Feb 13 '17 at 19:25
  • Dirichlet is one of the founders of the field of work and lived over a century ago, so for my purpose, it should be find. – Barry Feb 13 '17 at 19:39
  • This doesn't really work for mathematicians (or physicists, e.g. "in Einstein"). The only exception is if you have already stated that you will be discussing a particular work by Dirichlet. – TonyK Feb 14 '17 at 1:22

Metonymic constructions involving substitution of a person's name for their work is quite common. But there are variations depending on the type of work in question, and how well-known the individual is in the context. Below are some, but not all, of the nuances.

(Many of these observations can be found in Geoffrey Nunberg, p. 14, here.)

Artist's names are often used as count nouns representing instances of their work. For example,

  1. There are many Picassos in the Louvre.
  2. I've never seen a Michelangelo before.

But this construction is rarer with composers and musicians. For example, we rarely or never say things like:

  1. *I've heard three Bachs.

That said, we do make an exception when the work is new. For example,

  1. Have you heard the new Lady Gaga?

This kind of construction is also rare for authors of classical or "serious" literature. For example, we would rarely or never say things like:

  1. *I've read two Joyces.
  2. *I enjoyed three of the four Nabokovs I read.

That said, we regularly do use this kind of construction for more pulpy or serial authors. For example,

  1. I was reading a Grisham on the plane.
  2. He was reading a Dick Francis in his yard.

For artists, we sometimes use their names as uncountable nouns referring to their style, but some people might find these constructions marked. For example,

  1. ?In Picasso, form takes precedence over color, but in Matisse, the two are perfectly balanced.

Lastly, for authors, we often use their names as uncountable nouns referring to their body of work. For example,

  1. In Shakespeare, there is a constant consciousness of mortality.
  2. There is an undercurrent of playfulness in Kafka.

As far as I know, there is no special name for this kind of metonymy, although Geoffrey Nunberg calls the general class of metonymies artist for work (p. 12, here).

NOTE: My claims regarding frequency and markedness are based on native-speaker intuitions, not on corpus data.

  • Only number 8) is similar to the OP's question. Where Kafka stands for "Kafka's books or novels". – Lambie Feb 13 '17 at 19:34
  • I don't mind all the other examples -- the contrast between 1 and 3 for instance is fascinating! – Barry Feb 13 '17 at 19:42
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    I had to retract my upvote when I got as far as 'This kind of construction is also rare for authors.' I'd consider 'I was reading a Dick Francis' (no further noun) fully idiomatic, whereas I agree that 'I've read two Joyces.' sounds totally unacceptable. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 13 '17 at 23:51
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    @EdwinAshworth, I think you're right. There are nuances to this kind of metonymy that I didn't address. I'll make an edit. – GoldenGremlin Feb 14 '17 at 0:39
  • I believe the term is used primarily for authors and is used in place of referring to a text by name. Very frequently a university professor tends to refer to a text book or reference by the author's name.. not by nice fancy names like "the living planet" or whatever. The other uses sound strained to my ear.(but that's just opinion perhaps) – Tom22 Feb 14 '17 at 0:42

If Dirichlet had written the definitive textbook on the subject, and you were referring to that, you would be right. In physics at least we often refer to famous books by their authors' names (e.g. "Born and Wolf"). because this usage is accepted, repurposing it to refer to someone's entire body of work would be unclear.

  • 1
    Interesting. This is in contrast with examples 7 and 8 in the other post, where no one will hear "in Shakespeare" and instantly assume it's a particular work. The phrase "Born and Wolf" has two names though, and no one would mistake it for a single person's corpus of work. But I know examples of textbooks like you describe but with one author. (Does anyone say, "go look it up in Feynman"? Come to think of it, I'm surprised I've never heard anyone refer to those as "FLOP".) – Barry Feb 13 '17 at 20:23
  • Dirichlet DID write a definite textbook, but it's so old now that very few people reference it. Seems like a grey area. – Barry Feb 13 '17 at 20:24
  • The most common examples I can think of are two author books -- Landau & Lifshitz and Jenkins & White. But (sticking to the optics theme) Hecht is still probably the most important undergraduate text. Many people have probably only seen the complete works of Shakespeare since school, and only have a vague idea of where certain themes occur, so the idea of referring to one big work may not be so far removed from the norm. – Chris H Feb 13 '17 at 20:47
  • Wrt FLOP: especially as we have AoE or A of E (the art of electronics), BCS theory (from the originators' initials, like many examples with 3 main characters), etc. so abbreviations are often applied. – Chris H Feb 13 '17 at 20:50
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    (+ @Barry) As Silenus points out, using the (eg) author's name to represent their body of work (/ principle stance on a subject) is also standard (if potentially ambiguous). As always, context is very important. With this example, the esteem in which Dirichlet is held within the subject area may well be a controlling factor, but so may a previous mention within the text. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 14 '17 at 9:14

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