Is it a metonym to say that the president did something, when in reality it was his administration that did it?


Every example of one that I've come across uses an inanimate object as a substitute for one or more people closely associated with that object, such as saying "The White House", when one really means "the leaders in The White House". So I guess my question is if you use a person (rather than an object) to substitute for a group of people closely associated with that person, is it still considered a metonym, or does it fall under some other name?

  • The president vs his administration is just a use-case. It doesn't have to be Trump, it could be any president, or even a medieval king and his council. I understand that it could be ambiguous without any context, I'm just wondering if it would be an example of a metonym. – ddavidd Jul 25 '17 at 17:02
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    General note: Please refrain from making political comments. However, @DavidD, perhaps the question might be made less country-specific by changing it to "Minister" and "staff in his department"? – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '17 at 17:09
  • But the question is inherently country-specific, as the structures of power and press terminology varies. It is reasonable to want to understand the use of English as it relates to the United States. The metonym is "The White House." What's the president and what's the staff is always open to speculation. (Cf. "10 Downing Street") – Xanne Jul 25 '17 at 17:15
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    Maybe this is a better example: if someone were to say that a general moved from point A to point B on the battlefield, when what that person really means is the general's troops moved from point A to point B. Is there a particular figure of speech that encompasses that? – ddavidd Jul 25 '17 at 18:15
  • What's wrong with metonym? – Xanne Jul 25 '17 at 21:03

I don't think those substitutions are metonyms and I don't think there's any other special term for them, because they're not figures of speech. Writer and readers know full well that president for administration, minister for staff, general for soldiers are as near literal as it's reasonable to ask for.

There’s a big difference between the President made this or that happen and the White House said this or that was happening.

Who thinks the chef carved the joint without a knife any more than Dick Turpin or Paul Revere galloped all night on Shanks's pony, clicking their tongues for effect?

Who minds the difference between Michelangelo painting the Sistine ceiling and Pope Sixtus building it? Who ever speaks of Sixtus’ contribution as figurative?

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