A Word In Edgewise: Synecdoche/Metonymy — More Than Figures of Speech


“Synecdoche,” according to Wikipedia, is “a rhetorical trope similar to metonymy — a figure of speech in which a term that denotes one thing is used to refer to a related thing.” Something, basically, that substitutes the part for the whole: “crown” for “king,” “flag” for “country,” and so on.

All this is by way of getting to our current flag question, i.e., whether to remove all forms of the Confederate flag, as happened on the South Carolina Capitol grounds, from other locations. But what “other locations”? And and what does “flag” mean to different people?

In 1862 American composer George Frederick Root wrote Battle Cry of Freedom, a patriotic song for the Union cause. The tune was so popular that a version was adapted for the Confederacy.

While the Blues sang:
The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!

Down with the traitors, up with the stars; 
While we rally round the flag, boys, we rally once again, Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The Grays chanted:
Our Dixie forever! She’s never at a loss!

Down with the eagle and up with the cross
We’ll rally ’round the bonny flag, we’ll rally once again, Shout, shout the battle cry of Freedom!

There’s a movement to remove all Confederate flag images, and a counter-movement of outraged folk citing “heritage,” marching in robes and hoods, flaunting the Stars and Bars at a presidential motorcade, and, until recently, ordering it printed on specialty license plates in Texas. Lee Rowland, speaking for the ACLU in a July 22 Washington Post article, made an excellent distinction between South Carolina’s move and a recent decision by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to deny Confederate flag images.

South Carolina legislators, Rowland wrote, realized it was time to change, and voted a policy change to lower the flag, while in the license plate issue, Texas violated the First Amendment rights of individuals to express their opinion.

Far from being hypocritical, said Rowland, the ACLU, who had urged the removal of the South Carolina flag, fights to keep all citizens constitutionally protected, even for issues with which they don’t agree, believing that stifling private speech at whatever level is a constitutional failure.

Nobody said democracy would be easy, any more than is parsing figures of speech.

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