Bill Long 12/03/04
The "Quick conceite"
Puttenham concludes 3.17 by saying, "Then againe if we use such a word (as many times we do) by which we drive the hearer to conceive more or less or beyond or otherwise then the letter expresseth, and it be not by vertue of the former figures Metaphore and Abase [the last category he has treated--what the Greeks called Tapinosis--and which had to do with the vice of "abasing" things either intentionally or unintentionally] and the rest," the Greeks then have another term for it, and call it:
"Synecdoche, the Latines sub intellectio or understanding, for by part we are enforced to understand the whole, by the whole part, by many things one thing, by one, many, by a thing precedent, a thing consequent, and generally one thing out of another by manner of contrariety to the word which is spoken... (Id. at 154)."
Because synecdoche "seemeth to aske a good, quick, and pregnant capacitie, and is not for an ordinarie or dull wit to do so," he chooses to call it "quick conceite." But because it is something that pertains to clauses, and not to individual words, he doesn't deal with it until the end of the next chapter, 3.18.
Synecdoche in 3.18
Puttenham returns to synecdoche, which literally means "to take with something else" at the end of the chapter on "sensable figures....in clauses." His interesting intervening discussion of allegories, enigma, cacemphaton, irony, sarcasm (and related words) must be set aside for now, so that we can get to his treatment of synecdoche.
He puts synecdoche under the "speeches allecoricall, because of the darkenes and duplicitie of his sense." For example, if one would say that the "French King" was overthrown at "Saint Quintans, I am enforced to think that it was not the king himselfe in person, but the Constable of Fraunce with the French kings power." Again, if someone were to say that "the towne of Andwerpe were famished," it would not properly be taken literally, but of the "people of the town of Andwerp." This confusion caused by the usage of language illustrates one of the principal meanings of the term, that it is a "part for the whole" or a "whole for the part."
But I guess I am now confused. Though contemporary (20th century) dictionaries tend to differentiate metonym from synecdoche in that the latter is a "part for the whole" or "whole for the part" or "the genus for the species" or "species for the genus" or "the material for the finished product" or the "cause for the effect," the former is said to be a "substituting the name of one thing for that of another to which the former bears a known and close relation" (i.e., the adjunct of Ramus, no doubt). Examples of metonym from the Century Dictionary include the following: "Heaven for God, the Sublime Porte for the Turkish government, head and heart for intellect and affection, the town for its inhabitants, the bottle for strong drink."
But isn't Puttenham's synecdoche the same as the Century's metonym? And if we want to try to be more "strict" about the matter, and confine synecdoche to a part of the whole, recognizing that the name Antwerp really isn't the whole with the people being the parts, what are the following? If a guy says, "I will be chasing skirts tonight," is he using synecdoche or metonomy or is he just speaking testosteronically? Is the skirt a "part of the whole" of the female or is it something that "bears a known and close relation" to a woman? And, then there is the frequently cited reference to the "Crown." Is the Crown a part of the whole, that is the topmost part of the head of a person (the king) or does it stand in "known and clse relation" to kingship?
I, for one, think we are on far firmer ground by just saying that we have words that are more or less of a "stretch" from the literal signification or, alternatively, that we have more or less "understandable" figures of speech using the device of transport. Trying to distinguish between metonomy and synecdoche seems to be a nice intellectual challenge but something of a waste of time.
Conclusion--when Synecdoche comes in Handy
However, Puttenham does sneak in a rather sly sexual reference or two into 3.18, on figures of speech. With respect to synecdoche, he gives us the following example. Suppose a gentleman is in the bedroom with a maiden who is finishing her dressing preparations for an event. If he says to her, "give me leave to unlace your peticote," he is probably using the "cause and effect" understanding of synecdoche, by which, as we would say, 'one thing leads to another,' and, voila, they are in bed together. "In the olde time, whosoever was allowed to undo his Ladies girdle, might lie with her all night (Id. at 163)." Ah, now I can see how the figure of "quick conceite" may be useful!
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