Beware the Cowardly Synecdoche

BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa. The word comes from the Ancient Greek word synekdoche, which means “simultaneous understanding”. Thus, boots on the ground—refers to soldiers. New wheels— refers to a new car. Ask for her hand — refers to asking a woman to marry. Suits—can refer to business people. You brainboxes get the drift.

Sadly, it’s worth being aware of sinister use of synecdoche in Britain in 2018 because the Far Left (those who alas now run Labour) use it all the time to disparage Jews (as do numbskulls on the Far Right). It’s an old rhetorical trick which allows bigots to voice anti-Jewish hatred and deny antisemitism at the same time.

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Back in November 2015, the Green Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson Tony Clarke said in an interview on Radio 5 Live: “There are British oil companies such as Genel Energy, run by Nathaniel Rothschild, one of George Osborne’s friends, who are making money, who are buying oil from ISIS, who are putting money into the pot, allowing ISIS therefore to fuel their evil across the world.” In this false accusation, Nathaniel Rothschild stood for Jews in general, and the synecdoche supported the antisemitic cliché that Jews are rich, criminal world conspirators. The Green Party rightly made a public retraction.

After Prince Harry wore an SS costume to a fancy-dress party in 2005, Princess Michael of Kent gave an audience to the German paper, Die Welt, to plug a book and said: “if Harry had worn a hammer and sickle, nobody would have got excited …The press has a different sensibility because of its ownership structure.”

As recently as March this year Jeremy Corbyn admitted defending an artist who painted an anti-Semitic mural. The Labour leader criticised the decision to remove the painting below, which depicts a group of ‘hook-nosed’ men around a Monopoly board, from a wall in east London. When the artist complained on Facebook that it was being painted over, Mr Corbyn replied: ‘Why?’, before going on to condemn previous destruction of controversial political art.

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Anti-Semites believe that their use of synecdoche protects from accusations of antisemitism as speakers can claim that they are not talking about Jews in general.

We all know better. Synecdoche is too often the cowards’ way. Users think they are being clever using oblique or part references when at the end of the day they are as thick as two short planks. They are planks as long as they’re antisemitic.

Don’t get me wrong. The deflecting put-down or obtuse reference has a place in the English language. Take references to “a half-melted rubber bulldog” in the critique of a play featuring Walther Matthau. Or talk of Laurence Olivier “walking down lover’s lane holding his own hand”. Or (my personal favourite) the school leaver who left the following message in his class yearbook:

“This school has taught me such valuable things as:

Friendship

Unity

Community

Kindness

Youth

Optimism

Understanding”

But beware the cowardly Synecdoche. Expose it wherever you see it. Do not let those who seek to divide us ever have their way.

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