Do you know the feeling of having seen a word countless times but still not knowing what it means or even how to pronounce it? Recently I had this experience with the word ‘synecdoche.’ A friend was describing a film and asked if I was familiar with…and here he said something that sounded to me like schenectady. I asked, “You mean Schenectady, New York?”
“No,” he said. “Synecdoche.” (sin-eck-duh-key) “It means when you talk in shorthand, like saying ‘North Carolina lost the final NCAA game this year.’ A synecdoche is a part referring to the whole; the listener knows you’re not talking about the state of North Carolina but the university basketball team.”
Later I looked synecdoche up online. Other examples are: “The White House announced a new plan today,” and “I’ll give you a hand.” Obviously the White House can’t make announcements, and when we offer our hand in help we mean our whole body will be there too.
As I thought about the word I realized this is a painful aspect of the death of a spouse: the loss of your partner in compressed speech. Arthur and I could half-say things because we knew the other could fill in the spaces. He could say a couple of words and I would know the reference, which would set us both to laughing, or nodding our heads in thoughtful agreement. We had a secret language. I miss it.