Okay, it's the beginning of the title of a new movie, directed by Charlie Kaufman and starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. So I expect that avid indie film followers already know what this word means, even if they didn't a week or two ago. But I had actually come across this word in my reading a couple of days before, and hadn't been able to even make a guess at it. It came in the phrase 'synecdoche of'. I believe it was in Zoe Heller's The Believers,but won't swear to it. Nevertheless, it seems to be a mini motif, so I'm going to take a stab at it. All I can come up without help is that syn means something like 'with' or 'together'. But what the 'doche' is, I haven't a clue. I'm sure it will be transparent to all once I look it up. Here goes...
Well, this is one rambling grab bag of a word. It is in essence a substitution word. According to the free dictionary, it can mean a part standing in for the whole, the whole standing in for a part, the specific for the general or the general for the specific, and finally the material from which a thing is made.
It sounds complicated, but we do this all the time. "All hands ashore!" for example doesn't mean that the captain wants some kind of grotesque ritual of amputation. He wants the bodies that come with the hands. "I'll sic the law on you!" means I'll get some policemen to chase you down, not that the abstract institution is going to be sent round.
When you use a brand name instead of the more generic name, like Kleenex instead of tissue paper, you are using a syndecdoche. And when you get up to the check out counter and say, "I'd like to put that on plastic," the clerk likely knows very well that it's not just any piece of plastic that you propose but some very specific charge card.
As for "Synecdoche, New York", we can only guess at this point which form of synecdoche will be employed. Something stands in for something else. That would be my guess.
By the way, the word is Greek and does have a 'with' component. I can't quite get a take on the original Greek meaning, but it's something like 'to receive with' which is sometimes translated as 'simultaneous understanding'. I just read it also as 'acceptance of part of the responsibility for something.' You pronounce it si-nek-duh-kee, which, frankly, surprised me. If I think of a cynical duck, I will perhaps remember how to say it, but not, alas, what it means...
Friday's Forgotten Books, April 28, 2017 - You can find the links right here. Stay tuned here for an interview with Dana King coming up at 10:00 AM
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