A metonym is a figure of speech in which a person or thing is called by another name rather than its own. (Think about how many times you’ve seen l’Elysée used to refer to the French government.)
Mais le comble ? In an article in Science & Vie magazine by French science writer Lise Barnéoud titled Vers la fin des grands arbres, les grands arbres are referred to in almost twenty different ways: as doyens de la nature, maîtres de l’espace et du temps, rois des forêts, and titans ligneux, to name a few. (You can read my post 18 Ways to Say ‘Large Trees’ in French for the other phrasal synonyms that she uses.)Matthew goes on to say:
Unfortunately, I don’t have any data on “synonym density” between French and English. (Corpus linguists, consider that an idea for your next academic paper!) But I suspect that the French use synonyms, metonyms, and other lexical stand-ins more frequently than Americans.Like Matthew, I suspect that the French make greater use of metonyms and other lexical stand-ins than English-mother-tongue writers of the text types under discussion. And I too would like to read some serious corpus-based research confirming or disproving this hypothesis.
And if anyone wants to take the concept even further, it would be fascinating to see languages ranked according to this criterion.
18 Ways to Say ‘Large Trees’ in French includes literal translations of the 18 stand-ins for les grands arbres used in Lise Barnéoud's Vers la fin des grands arbres.
When it comes to translating text types that may make greater use of metonyms and lexical stand-ins in either the source or target language (journalism, political discourse or management speak are three text types that come quickly to mind), I believe that today's theories of terminology, not to mention the supposed benefits of CAT/TenT termbases, leave much to be desired.
CAT: computer-assisted translation
TenT: translation environment tool