Metonymy 101

DETROIT, MI - JULY 18: A banner on a building in downtown Detroit is shown July 18, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

The city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy yesterday, and back in 2009 the Obama administration took some steps to help General Motors and Chrysler avoid a Chapter 7 liquidation process. There’s a figure of speech known as “metonymy” whereby people often say things like “Hollywood” to mean “the American film industry” (rather than a neighborhood in Los Angeles) or “the Beltway” to mean “political elites living in or near the District of Columbia” (rather than a highway through the suburbs) or “the White House” to mean “senior figures in the Obama administration” (rather than a building in which some of them have offices) and deploying that figure of speech both the president and his allies have over the years sometimes used “Detroit” to mean “the American automobile manufacturing industry.”

If you or someone you love is going around and finding old quotes in which the words “Detroit” and “bankruptcy” appear but it’s absolutely clear from context that “Detroit” is being used as metonymy for auto companies rather than as a way of referring to the municipality then please stop.