Is there a term for referring to an organization by its city rather than by its name? mentions synecdoche and metonym as terms used when an organization is referred to by its location.

Do these terms also apply when an event, rather than an organization, is referred to by its location? For example, Chernobyl, Fukushima, or Hiroshima.

What about when a date is used to refer to an event, such as 3/11 being used for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami?

  • 1
    I would not recognise 3/11 as a reference to the Japanese earthquake. I only know very few dates that recognisably refer to events, and most of those mention the event too apart from the obvious 9/11
    – mplungjan
    Jan 6 '12 at 12:37
  • @mplungjan: That raises an interesting side question. I suspect events known by dates would be very localized. As an American, for now "9/11" brings to mind a specific event, but will this still be true in 20 or 30 years? "December 7" used to immediately bring to mind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but I think that is fading. "4th of July" evokes the revolution, but is more likely to make people think of the holiday then the original event. I'm hard-pressed to think of other examples. Maybe other countries have their own.
    – Jay
    Jan 6 '12 at 16:00
  • During the next 10 months in the US, I expect frequently to hear the word "November" used to mean "the presidential election".
    – GEdgar
    Jan 6 '12 at 16:02
  • Remember, remember the 5th of November - still works 400 years after the event and 300 years after the first recorded rhyme... To my European ears, December 7th does not ring a bell unless you add Pearl Harbor - however 1066 does immediately trigger "Battle of Hastings" but that is from history books ONLY, not from family ;) 9/11 will be remembered for hundreds of years in my mind due to it happening in the age of Internet, more than for example Bhopal 1984 did
    – mplungjan
    Jan 6 '12 at 16:11

Referring to Wikipedia entries for metonymy and synecdoche, we see that metonymy certainly applies: "a thing or concept is [called] by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept." But synecdoche does not: "Part of something is used to refer to the whole thing ... A specific class of thing is used to refer to a larger, more general class". (Synecdoche does have one sense, in which "a container is used to refer to its contents", that at a stretch may apply here, if we regard a place or date as a "container" for an event.)


"Chernobyl" and "9/11" are both examples of metonymy:

metonymy, noun : a figure of speech that consists in using the name of one thing for that of something else with which it is associated [MW]

Metonymy itself is a specific type of trope:

Tropes are chiefly of four kinds: metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony. [Century Cyclopedia]

  • I thought trope was a time sink! Jan 6 '12 at 23:55
  • "We are not a stuffy encyclopedic wiki. We're a buttload more informal." I like it. As far as time sinks, EL&U certainly is one.
    – Gnawme
    Jan 7 '12 at 0:05

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