Of the four basic literary comparative devices, the only one that most people are familiar with is the "metaphor"--the figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance. We all know what metaphors are. We typically use them on a daily basis. Many people may also be familiar with the term "simile"--a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared. Similes tend to use the words "like" or "as". Many people say "metaphor" when they actually mean "simile". Only English teachers (and a few weirdos like me) know about the other two comparative devices: metonymy and synecdoche. (Go figure--these terms are so unknown that the forum's spellcheck is catching them even thought I know they're right.) Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used as stand-in for something else to which it is related. A prime example of metonymy would be the phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword". Obviously, pens are not literally stronger than swords. If a guy with a pen fought a guy with a sword, pen man would have a very bad day. Clearly, we know that what the expression means is that ideas are more powerful than violence. The pen represents words and ideas, and the sword represents violence. Most people would call this a metaphor, but it's actually metonymy. There's a subtle but distinct difference.
The last seldom used comparative device is "synecdoche". (sin-neck-duh-key) Besides being one of the most fun words in the English language to say, synecdoche is quite an interesting literary device. It's a figure of speech in which a part or piece of something is used a stand-in for the whole. When someone buys a new car and says, "How do you like my new wheels?", this is an example of synecdoche. Obviously, they didn't just buy new tires. "Wheels" means the entire car in this case. Synecdoche and metonymy are very similar and easy to confuse. The best way to keep them straight is to cement two examples in your mind. "New set of wheels": synecdoche. "Pen is mightier than the sword": metonymy.
There is a very interesting case of synecdoche that nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. It's absolutely universal and ubiquitous, and quite curious in my opinion. And it pertain to, of all things, your buttocks. That's right--your bottom, your gluteus maximus, your butt, your ass, your backside, your can, your derriere, your posterior, your bum, your keister, your heinie, your arse, your patootie, your tushie, your tucus, your booty, your rump... goodness gracious there's a lot of euphemisms for that. And I'm sure I missed a few.
People constantly refer to your posterior when they clearly mean the entire person. "Get your ass over here!" We don't mean that you should remove your buttocks and toss it over there but leave the rest of you right where it is. Or how about, "learn your ass"? I love that one. Like maybe somebody says, "someone needs to learn your ass some responsibility!" And then of course there's, "kick your ass". Now, sometimes, someone might actually mean that one literally, but most of the time it just means to beat someone up. Or "beat your ass". That one definitely means to beat up the whole person. People say stuff like, "Why's yer ass so late all the time?" or "why's yo ass gotta be so stupid?" Or if you think some employee ought to get the ax, you might say, "fire his ass!" If a dude cheats on his girlfriend, her friends will say, "dump his ass!" If someone gets you out of a jam, then it's "you saved my ass!" If you've got someone right where you want them, you'd say, “your ass is mine.” If you've got complete domination over them, then you “own their ass.” Oh, here's a really good one: if you do a lot of work, then you're "working your ass off," or "busting your ass", and if you aren't doing much work, then you're "half-assing it". Isn't that great? The amount of work done seems proportional the amount of buttocks used. Omg. I could go on forever. You get the picture.
So why do we do this? Why is the buttocks always synecdoche for the entire person? Why not some other part? Why don't we say, "get your head over here"? That would actually make a little more logical sense, as your head is home to your identity and everything that we think of as making you who your are. I mean, we say, "get your head in the game", and things like that, but not "get your head over here". Or "get your knees over here", or "get your elbows over here". "Get your abdomen over here". "Somebody's gotta learn your feet some responsibility". You get the idea. Why is the butt representative of the whole person in ways that others parts are not?
Well, I guess it's not too much of a mystery; we definitely tend to have a fascination with this part. I mean, let's get down to brass tacks, here--we're evolved to be sexually attracted to rear ends. It's one of the things we "check out" in a potential mate. We're kind of obsessed with them, honestly. Like... do I really need to explain that? Of course not! But it's still strange that the posterior is the part that we decided to represent the whole you. But here's where it gets even weirder for me--for the most part, most of us like nicely shaped butts. That's undeniable. Personally, I think that they're one of the most gorgeous things on Earth. (And I don't think that that's "dirty" or low-brow either, btw.) So, we like them, and we love to look at a nice one on someone we're attracted to, but we also use them as insults. Like... huh? What? Why is that? "Yer an ass", "don't be an ass", "butthead", "dumbass". Why do we use the posterior as an insult if we generally like them so much? And we really, really like them, too. I mean, like, a lot. I know I sure do. Sir Mix-a-Lot sure does. So if sexy asses are good, then why is it bad to be an ass? Am I the only one who thinks this is strange? If someone is mean, we don't call them an arm. We don't say, "Stop being such an arm." We say "stop being such an ass." But... nice bottoms are good! I don't get it. Having a nice ass is good, but being an ass is bad? I have a good brain. Is being a brain bad, too? Do I not want to be a brain? Shapely butts are so attractive, it seems to me that being one would be good. Like... I dunno... I wouldn't mind being an ass. Sounds like it might be nice. Jokes aside, it doesn't stop there--it's also deemed an insult to show someone your backside in the wrong context. Y'know--"mooning" as it's called. But isn't it strange that people are attracted to them and want to see them, but then look away and want to bleach they eyeballs if mooned? I guess it's all about who's rump your seeing in that case. But still, it's so strange that we seem to view them as simultaneous good and bad. It has always seemed so illogical and counter-intuitive to me that butts are simultaneously beloved, cherished, and sought after, while at the same time being regarded as some vile, horrible insult.
The same can be said for genitalia as well. We like them--at least a certain variety of them--and yet, calling someone any variety of genitalia is an insult. If you're being a weenie, a d*ck, a p*ssy, or a c*nt, it's bad. You're just a terrible person. Well... but... but... I thought we liked those parts? We sure go out of our way to try to see them. We expend a ridiculous amount of mental energy trying to imagine them. (Well, at least, some of us, anyway.) We seem to find these parts pretty alluring. Having these parts sure seems to be a good thing. You can do some pretty cool stuff with 'em, that's for sure. We wouldn't want to not have them. And having consensual access to these parts on others in the proper context is undeniably a good thing. And yet, once again, being those parts (figuratively speaking), or acting like those parts, is bad. I don't get it. If we like these parts so much, then wouldn't you want to be them?
On a not totally unrelated tangent, why the hell do women simultaneous want big and small butts? You ever notice this? Women often seem to be obsessed with booty-shaping workouts. If you go on youtube and look at workout videos, there's more videos on shaping, lifting, and buffing up your booty than all other videos combined! And they all promise things like "get a bigger booty in 30 days!" Now, evidence suggests that whatever your gluteal size is, you can't really increase it by working out. It's mostly genetics. All you can do is tone what's there. But that aside, I can definitely understand why women (or anyone, really), would want a rounder, shapelier booty. I mean, as I've said--they're sexy! Makes sense, right? But then what happens when a women puts on a dress? She asks her boyfriend or husband, *mocking tone* "does this make my butt look big?" And of course, any man who enjoys living knows the correct answer: "What? Who said that? Oh, there you are! Your butt looks so small I didn't even know you were in the room!" Wha... huh??! Didn't you want a bigger tushie?! Wasn't that the whole point of those daily butt blaster workouts you've been pounding through?! If your butt looks bigger in that dress as a result of your workout, that's a good thing! Or if you just naturally have a shapely rear, that's good, too! Lucky you. Men tend to really like round, shapely rears. Again, Mix-a-Lot, dude. So why are women paranoid about their butt looking too big in dresses? And yet they still obsessively do booty workouts. I don't get it. Do you want a bigger butt or not? Make up your damn mind.
This whole post was pretty much just for sh*ts and grins, in case you couldn't tell. I wrote it largely because I love tushies and I thought it would be fun and funny to spend a whole entry talking about them. Don't take any of it too seriously. I do think it's an odd and funny thing, though. The butt represents the whole person, we like butts and genitals, we like to look at them, but we simultaneously regard them as somehow insulting and horrible. Perhaps this has some deeper, underlying reason pertaining to the stigmas against sexuality that I've spent a many-an-essay tackling? Or not. Maybe it's just meaningless, silly slang. It is weird, though. So, I guess the takeaway is to remember that, apparently, you are your butt, and your butt is you.