Metonymy: Flocabulary’s Weekly Literary Term

Teach Figurative Language with Flocabulary

Check out the lyrics and more.

Listen to Flocabulary’s new, free Figurative Language song. You’ll learn all about metonymy, as well as metaphors, simile and more.

"Houston, we've had a problem...we can't remember why this line is an example of metonymy."

“Houston, we’ve had a problem…we can’t remember why this line is an example of metonymy.”


Definition: When the name of one object replaces another object that is closely associated with it. It comes from the Greek word metōnymía, meaning “change of name.”

Why Writers Use it: Metonymy can often allow writers and speakers to refer to complicated concepts or large groups of people with a single world. It also helps to create a quick mental image by using everything that the metonym evokes. For example, it was easier for President Obama to say,

“We cannot only have a plan for Wall Street…We must also help Main Street.”


We cannot only have a plan for wealthy bankers and moneyed financial institutions…We must also help the average person who is more likely to live in a small town and not own a yacht.

Metonymy Examples in Hip-Hop

100 bucks

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby” -Puff Daddy

“Watch the Throne”
-Kanye West & Jay-Z’s collaborative album

“The crown ain’t safe”

10 dollar bill

“You can call me Aaron Burr by the way I’m dropping Hamiltons” -The Lonely Island

Metonymy in Shakespeare and Literature

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

“Doublet and hose ought to show itself courageous to petticoat” –Shakespeare

“Disdaining fortune,
with his brandished steel,
which smoked with bloody execution”
-Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Other examples

“The White House said…”
-Many, many news articles and press releases

“The pen is mightier than the sword”

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
-Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell. (You can listen to the original recording of the line here.)

“Detroit is still hard at work on an SUV that runs on rain forest trees and panda blood.” – Conan O’Brien

“But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech. Stone Mountain refers to the home base of the KKK.

“By the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread.” -Genesis 3:19

“They gave him a pink slip.”

“The pitcher’s got a good arm.”

Metonymical Place names


Place names are commonly used to represent the most famous activities that happen there. For a quick lesson on Metonymy, you could provide students with a list of places and ask them what they refer to.

Washington –> The U.S. Government
Silicon Valley –> The computer tech industry
Hollywood –> The film industry
Detroit –> The auto industry
The Vatican –> The Pope or the Catholic Church
Scotland Yard –> The British police
Houston –> NASA
Wall Street –> Financial institutions
Main Street –> The average American
Madison Avenue –> The advertising industry

Check Out the Previous Literary Terms in the Series


…and tune in next week for a very special Simile & Metaphor lesson!

Share your best examples of metonymy in the comments!

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