One of the challenges facing any writer is to add variety and colour to their sentences without obscuring the facts or deviating from the point. This is evident in business writing when reading business emails, letters and documents which, in many cases, appear to have been written by machines.
How a simple phrase can bring a sentence to life in business writing
The aim is not to make your business writing more difficult. Indeed, this simple device makes it easier to write factual prose that impacts more favourably with the reader.
Consider Mark Anthony’s famous line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 1: “Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears.”
Had Marc Anthony said: “Please listen,” would his speech have survived for more than four hundred years as a great example of literary craftsmanship? More importantly, would his audience have obeyed?
It’s called metonymy
This is just a fancy name for a figure of speech in which a feature or attribute of something is used to represent the person or object with which it is closely associated.
Newspaper reporters frequently refer to the Crown or the Palace to represent a royal person, usually the head of the royal family. Westminster is used instead of parliament and, in the same way, the White House can mean anything from the president or a department of State down to the lowliest official on the government payroll.
Other examples used in everyday business writing:
- We’re meeting with the suits from the agency this afternoon. Here the suits – a reference to the clothing worn by the agency executives – is used as a form of shorthand indicating people of a certain rank.
- Head office has said we won’t be going ahead with the project this year. Sometimes, it’s easier and quicker to refer to head office, especially if you’d prefer not to – or are unable to – identify the management executive who made the decision.
- This dish helped the restaurant build its awesome reputation. When my food arrived, I wasn’t disappointed. Dish has been used to mean not just the crockery but the meal itself. This helps the writer avoid repeating words such as meal and food when describing an experience in a restaurant.
- Please give me a hand with this printer. A request for help that may involve moving, operating or repairing.
- There are two mistakes in this document. You must learn to use your eyes. Perhaps inspired by Mark Anthony’s plea to his audience to lend him their ears, using your eyes in this context means being more observant.
Using a metonymy allows you to eliminate the clumsy repetition of words and phrases and makes your writing a little easier to absorb. To use a double metonymy, always remember: the pen is mightier than the sword.
Identify these well-know metonymies and find some new ones that will help to improve your business communications:
- The Oval Office
- The Turf
- The Throne Or The Crown
- The Suits
- Boots on the Ground
- The Hill
- Madison Avenue
- The Glitterati