WORDS CAN arise in the most circuitous ways. I was reading about French president Francois Hollande’s relational complexities—His Élysée Palace live-in pal, Valérie Trierweiler, apparently moving out in response to Hollande’s motor scooting to cinq-à-sept visits with actress Julie Gayet.
“Cinq-à-sept,” is French for “five to seven,” a phrase that has come to mean perhaps a business gathering directly after work. Originally, though, it described what French businessmen of a certain sort did before going home to la petite femme et les enfants.
Linguistically, cinq-à-sept is a synecdoche, a figure of speech employing part of a concept to imply the concept’s entirety. The word, pronounced si-NEK-de-kee, comes from the Greek, συνεκδοχή, meaning a “simultaneous understanding.”
Which sort of gets us back to cinq-à-sept, doesn’t it?
According to Kenneth Burke, 20th-Century literary theorist, synecdoche is one of four principal elements of Rhetoric, the other three being metaphor, metonymy and irony. And, of course, wouldn’t we want to examine each of these?
A lecture at the Knights Academy, part of a series. Painting by Pieter Isaacsz, 1569-1625.
In medieval universities, Rhetoric was one subject of the Trivium, the other two being Grammar (Latin, of course) and Logic. Geoffrey Chaucer would have studied the Trivium (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-bC).
Metaphor is familiar to many of us. It compares two things without using the word “like” or “as.”
The second Globe Theatre, London. Image by Wenceslas Hollar, c. 1640.
“All the world’s a stage” is a wonderful metaphor.
A metonymy is a name change to one of an associated meaning. For example, “Hollywood” is often used to describe the U.S. film industry.
This sign means more to the world than simply a portion of Los Angeles.
Irony is saying something that one doesn’t actually mean, a feigned ignorance. “Here come the girls,” uttered when the matrons return from tea.
Irony can be purely visual as well. Image of a London Underground sign by Dpbsmith en.wikipedia.
Synecdoche, a part referring to the entirety, is used a lot. “Here are my ‘wheels…’ ” when referring to these components together with the rest of the associated vehicle.
Which brings me back to cinq-à-sept motor scooting. ds