Pars pro toto is Latin for "(taking) a part for the whole"; it is a kind of synecdoche. When used in a context of language it means that something is named after a part of it (or after a limited characteristic, in itself not necessarily representative for the whole). E.g. "glasses" is a "pars pro toto" name for something that consists of more than just two pieces of glass. The opposite of a pars pro toto is a totum pro parte, in which the whole is used to describe a part.
Pars pro toto
Pars pro toto, Latin for "a part for the whole", is a figure of speech where the name of a portion of an object, place or concept represents the entire object, place or concept. It is distinct from a merism, which is a reference to a whole by an enumeration of parts, metonymy, where an object, place or concept is called by something or some place associated with the object, place or concept, or synecdoche, which can refer both to this and its inverse of the whole representing a part. In the context of language, pars pro toto means that something is named after a part of it, or after a limited characteristic, in itself not necessarily representative for the whole. For example, "glasses" is a pars pro toto name for something that consists of more than just two pieces of glass. Pars pro toto is a common device in iconography, where a particular icon can stand for a complete set of characteristics. James George Frazer used "pars pro toto" to explain his concept of contagious magic.
Pars pro toto
The Pars pro toto is a stylistic device of rhetoric and a special form of Synekdoche as well as metonymy and belongs to the group of the tropics. The pars pro toto replaces one expression by another, which is a part of the replaced term. The stylistic counterpart of Pars pro toto is the Totum pro parte. Here the whole stands for a part of the whole.
The word group Pars pro toto comes from the Latin and can be translated with A part [stands] for the whole. The translation thus already reveals what is at stake: namely, a word which stands as a substitute for a whole for this whole. Let us look at an example.
After all, we have a roof over our heads.
The above example is familiar to most people from the everyday language. The term “roof” is used for the entire house. A part of the meant expression (roof) thus stands for the whole (house). There are many such examples in the colloquial language: head for person, sail for ship, four eyes for two persons.
Pars pro toto and Totum per parte
The stylistic counterpart to the stylistic figure described is the Totum pro parte. This is therefore also a special form of Synekdoche. Here the whole thing describes a part.
Germany gets the gold medal in the hurdles.
In the example sentence it is said that Germany cleans a gold medal. But, of course, the individual competitor, who has overshadowed his fellow competitors, is meant here. Therefore the whole (Germany) stands for a part (competitor).
Note: Basically, both style figures are about a relationship between a part and the whole. As a special form of the Synekdoche, however, there are still a few marginal cases which then have a different name. Various types are available under Synekdoche.
Examples of the Pars pro toto
There are also many examples of the stylistic figure in the colloquial language. Some of these have even become so established in our linguistic usage that it is hardly apparent that the term is only a sub-range. This is often the case especially in geography.
The territory of Holland for the Netherlands.
England for the United Kingdom
Russia for the whole Soviet Union
A good drop instead of a good wine
Souls for people
Function and effect of Pars pro toto at a glance
The style figure is usually used to avoid word repetitions. Primarily in speeches revolving around the same theme, this can be regarded as a revaluation of the style.
Furthermore, the whole can focus the receiver on a particular detail. When we say that our blade has defeated the enemy, we will, of course, take it to the fore, in contrast to the “rest” of the weapon.
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