25 Best Metonymy Examples in Writing and Conversation

Discover our guide and explore fascinating referential phrases with this comprehensive list of the best metonymy examples.

Metonymy remains one of the most common devices to make poems, dialogue, and everyday conversation more interesting. It refers to a figure of speech where one word is replaced by another related word that still provides the same meaning but in a slanted way.

What is Metonymy?

Literary devices like metronomy may sound confusing initially, but we always use metonymy – think of choosing your favorite “dish” at a restaurant. You don’t have a literal favorite dish there, but you’re referring to their meals in a roundabout way.

Metonymy comes from the Greek word metonymia, meaning “a change of name.” It’s different from terms like synecdoche, which refers to a part of the subject as the whole instead of a related subject like metonymy does. Metonymy also differs from full metaphors, usually unrelated to the subject but connected through analogy. Let’s look at some of the most famous examples of metonymy and where they come from!

Metronomy Quotes

1. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” 

Edward Bulwer Lytton
“The pen is mightier than the sword.” is a classical metonymy that came from a famous play by Edward Bulwer Lytton

This classical metonymy is an example of how it can use metaphors to become more poetic – and memorable. A pen is not physically mightier than a sword (except in one Indian Jones movie). But pen is a metonym for words and persuasive writing, while the sword is a metaphor for military might or violence. Curious about where this figurative language originally came from? It’s traced back to Cardinal Richelieu, a famous play by Edward Bulwer Lytton. Check out these writing organizational patterns.

2.“Lend me your ears.”

William Shakespeare originally made this phrase famous in Julius Caesar, with Antony’s famous speech to rally his soldiers in desperate times following (spoilers) the death of Caesar: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” Readers know, of course, that Caesar did not want to collect everyone’s ears and then give them back at a later date. He wanted their attention, and Shakespeare found a dramatic way to say it. You might also be interested in these paradox examples.

3. “Go get that bread.”

This modern phrase for making money, especially through side hustles, is a little funny the first time you hear it, but it quickly starts feeling familiar. After all, you want money to put “bread on the table” at home, so you don’t have to “beg for bread” in the streets. There are many metonymy options for money, including the closely related “dough.”

Metonymy In The News

4. “The White House gave an update on the matter.”

Metonymy examples in the news
“The White House gave an update on the matter.” is a shorthand way to refer to something the President or the President’s administration said in the United States

It’s an incredibly common media phrase, and you probably don’t even think twice about it, but this example of metonymy is somewhat humorous. Obviously, the White House itself isn’t speaking. It’s a shorthand way to refer to something the President or the President’s administration said in the United States. It saves a little time and is more consistent from administration to administration.

Interestingly, many nations worldwide use this same form of metonymy, seemingly without any connection. You’ve probably heard news stories about something the “The Kremlin” did in Russia, but the Kremlin is just a center of government in Moscow. “Downing Street” may cause an uproar in UK headlines, but citizens know it refers to something the Prime Minister did. Some argue this is a type of reverse synecdoche, where the larger whole refers to a part. The terms can get blurry, but most agree this is more of a metonym.

5. “The press immediately jumped on the story.”

The printing press is an incredible invention that revolutionized history, but no one thinks it will award interviewing people and reporting on the latest news. Instead, this phrase references reporters and journalists – often the media, in print or online. Like many metonymies, it’s a more efficient way of referring to a somewhat complex concept. In this phrase, you may also consider “jumped” a type of metonymy. Reporters aren’t physically leaping onto celebrities, but it’s understood they are quickly seizing the opportunity to learn more and write their stories.

6. “He preferred the jocks to the nerds.”

This is an interesting case because of how accepted a term has become. We all recognize that jocks are a high school in-group referring to those involved in sports (also carried out to a broader reference to athletes and fit people). But no one thinks that a group of jockstraps is literally eating in the cafeteria. Or, if the term came from jockey, as some argue, people don’t expect a group of horse riders to congregate on campus.

But is “jock” still metonymy in action? If you looked up “jock” in the dictionary, it primarily refers to an enthusiast, male athlete, or male sports fan, and only secondarily as a jockstrap or jockey. Has the metonymy taken over as the primary meaning of the word?

7. “Silicon Valley quickly adopted the trend.”

Can a phrase be a double-metonymy? Check out “Silicon Valley” as an example: These days, people understand that it is referencing a tech center in California, not an actual valley made of silicon (a key ingredient in computer chips). But, at the same time, we all know that a landscape of tech businesses isn’t making decisions to adopt a new trend. Individual tech leaders and corporations are doing that. Additionally, Silicon Valley is used as shorthand to describe what tech companies around the country or even across the world are doing.

8. “Wall Street reacted poorly to the news.”

While high inflation may be bad news for all kinds of people, no one believes that a street in New York City is frowning about it. Instead, Wall Street refers to how traders, agents, and investors react to current events. The metonymy originated because of the many brokerages, along with the NY Stock Exchange, located within just a few blocks of Manhattan.

This is another example of a metonymy deeply ingrained in language and shows up everywhere (especially in New York). When we say, “She made it on Broadway,” everyone knows we’re talking about success in a particular theatre venue, not the street itself. “Madison Avenue” refers to what marketers have thought up lately – and so on.

Metonymy In Conversation

9. “The new blood in the workplace is making a big difference.”

This metonymy treads close to the edge. It’s almost just a metaphor or turn of phrase. But the concept of getting new blood for rejuvenation or healing is common, and new workers represent new, biological material at the workplace. Let’s give this metonymy the benefit of the doubt, and hope that business is doing well.

10. “She’s been hitting the bottle pretty hard lately.”

Here’s another fun double metonymy that works together to underline the meaning. “Hitting” the bottle doesn’t mean literally slapping a bottle; it means drinking or taking a hit from it. And not all alcohol is found in bottles, but we know that the literary terms are talking about drinking alcohol – especially since many liquors and wines still come in glass bottles. The different references say, “She’s been drinking too much alcohol lately.”

11. “He sold his house for a song and moved away.”

Even before this phrase was invented – possibly by Shakespeare, who used it in All’s Well that Ends Well – the word “song” has been associated with a pittance or very low cost. From hundreds of years ago to this day, street performers have been performing songs for change, so the association with low sums of money is an easy one. More poetically, songs themselves are ethereal, airy, and quickly gone.

12. “You’re on our turf now.”

Granted, opposing sports teams can say this to each other in the right circumstances and be entirely literal. But this metonymy describes any local ownership or oversight, giving the sense that this space belongs to someone. Turf is simply a stand-in for the ground here, originally a word meaning sod or soil, later becoming a specific term for lawns.

13. “He never bothered to learn their mother tongue.”

Sometimes metonymy feels so natural we’re unaware we’re using it. The word “tongue” refers to someone’s language before modern English was invented and continues to appear regularly in all kinds of writing. It’s a natural, easy way to discuss the languages someone knows or speaks, and in fairy tales eating a tongue was even known to give people the ability to understand birds or beasts.

14. “The top brass are coming down to personally oversee this.”

This phrase is commonly associated with the big bosses at a company or other organization, although few people wonder why it’s such a close association. There’s a reason the term is so connected to the military: It began as military metonymy to refer to commanding officers.

The origins remain unsure, but it appears to have come from the 1800s British army, where senior officers wore gold-colored metal leaves as medals on their hats. Eventually, the term “brass hat” was born during WWI, and the rest is history.

15. “That silver fox is popular with the ladies.”

A silver fox (which doesn’t exist in nature) is probably a beautiful creature, but we all know that’s not what this metonymy refers to. From “vixen” to a “foxy look,” the fox has always been associated with sexiness and seduction. And if a man has some “silver” in his hair, well, maybe that means he has more experience and charm, making him especially popular with women of refined taste.

16. “Well that project was a breeze.”

A breeze is light and quickly passes without annoyance, making it an excellent reference for a task that’s easily handled. Some may argue this is more of a metaphor since a breeze isn’t directly related to work or chores. However, a fresh breeze during hard outside labor is refreshing, so we’re giving this one the benefit of the doubt, too.

17. “Here, let me give you a hand.”

While zombies may use this turn of phrase for an easy pun, we living people know it’s a common metonymy for helping someone out. It comes, of course, from putting your hands to physical labor to help someone out, like aiding a friend in moving to a new home.

18. “That was, hands down, the best Thai food I’ve had.”

More hands! If there’s a contest and someone wins very easily, then it is a hands-down victory. But where does the metonymy come from? Linguists report that it comes from the old days of horse racing. When a jockey pulled well ahead and had no doubts about winning the race, they would tend to relax their hands and lower the reigns, giving themselves and their horse a break. So, hands down became associated with a clear victory.

19. “You have my word.”

Which word? Is it an important one? Did you tell me the word already? Unsurprisingly, this idiom can confuse people learning English for the first time. However, it’s a type of metonymy referring to a related term – the words someone has told you – to indicate their honesty or the seriousness of what they’re seeing. That relation makes it a common phrase for a vow or oath.

20. “The kitchen is halfway done, but the cabinets will be in tomorrow.”

This form of metonymy takes a moment to think about but makes a lot of sense. The speaker replaces the longer form, “The renovation work we’re doing on the kitchen,” with a simpler shorthand version, “The kitchen.” The kitchen exists before and after, but the project is halfway over. Being concise like this often leads to metonymy, even unintentionally.

21. “His suspicions about the world were confirmed – everyone has their own fears.”

“The world” doesn’t mean the entire planet and everything in it. Instead, it’s a reference to how everyone in the world behaves and the ways they think. If you pay attention when reading literature, you’ll see the different ways that “world” acts as a reference to broad descriptions of how something works – it’s a very common use of metonymy.

22. “You better watch your mouth around m.e”

If someone uses a phrase like this, they don’t want you to take out a mirror and start staring at your lips. Instead, they want you to pay attention to the speech that comes from your mouth and avoid displeasing them. There’s not much shorthand here – the phrase could just as easily use the words “speech” or “talking,” but “mouth” has that visceral feeling that shows you mean business.

23. “She has my heart, now and forever.”

Did we even need to tell you about this famous version of metonymy? No lover wants to physically dig out their heart and hand it to someone. Instead, they mean that they love someone so much that their core of being, the center of their emotions, relies on that person for survival. It’s a beautiful form of metonymy that has lasted thousands of years in languages used worldwide.

24. “He sent a hired gun after them all.”

The gun may be on loan, but someone is talking about hiring a hitman to care for people. The metonymy uses a common weapon in this scenario to refer to the person being hired as an object in place of a private contractor.

25. “Did you see the latest Game of Thrones?”

You could be talking about an entire Game of Thrones series, now that there are two of them – but in casual discussion, you certainly mean the latest aired episode. It’s just a shorter way to discuss your favorite shows.

Looking for more? Check out our guide with melodrama examples!


  • Tyler has been published on Huffington Post and Motely Fool. His article and blogs experience includes working for The Content Standard, Mad Mobile, Digital Landing, and Apass Education, among many others.