I am not sure if this is possible. I would like to use a metonymy with an idiom, and it doesn't seem to be something people ever did, so it feels wrong.

I have the following sentence:

He was in the middle of our fedora hats celebrating our victory.

I am using it to mean the following:

He was in the middle of our (mafia) family celebrating our victory.

Not only it sounds weird, but it sounds wrong. I don't think there's something I did wrong, but the combination of the two makes it really weird. So can we combine the two or not?

3 Answers 3


The problem is more the meter of the sentence. How you say things makes as big of an impact as what you say.

The problem is furthered by the fact what you're trying to replace with "fedora hats", "mafia family". It feels bulky and cumbersome to the flow of the sentence. Most metonymies tend to be syllabalically shorter than what they replace. Sometimes the same length. They are almost never longer. "But 'fedora hats' is shorter than 'mafia family'!" But it's longer than "family."

In short, if you want to make a metonymy work better, try to use a three-syllable-or-less version.

This doesn't even start going into the issues based on if people will understand your metonymy. Establish that everyone is wearing fedoras then refer to the family as "hats" and that MAY work. Let's see how the sentence flows, knowing full well that this assumes fedoras were previously mentioned explicitly and clearly.

He was in the middle of our hats, celebrating our victory.

Sounds better to me. Is it perfect? Eh, not really, but perfection isn't the goal, improvement is.

  • It is my view that this change actually makes the sentence significantly worse, because more obscure. The problem her eis not the meter, although that can be significant in prose, but the meaning. -1 Mar 16, 2019 at 17:20
  • @DavidSiegel How does it makes the meaning more obscure? Note the prerequisite: "Establish that everyone is wearing fedoras then refer to the family as "hats" and that MAY work." I.e. If you don't already establish the fedoras are being worn in your text, this improvement will fail. I could understand if I said this without that prereq, but otherwise your objection seems unfounded as the exact same information would have been presented to the reader. Mar 17, 2019 at 7:14
  • There is historical precedent for fedoras specifically being associated with mafia figures, at least of a specific period. Your establishment would need to cover that, but in that case it might be equilivant or better. I still don't thinmk the meter issue is relevant. Mar 17, 2019 at 16:04
  • @DavidSiegel The meter issue is relevant because the problem is how it sounds/reads. Not just what is being expressed. The expression is fine, but it sounds wrong because the way it sounds when said is cumbersome and bulky. Mar 18, 2019 at 3:47
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    we must agree to disagree on that point. I do not percieve any problem with the sound, only with the sense. Sound can be a vital aspect of what works in language, but I don't think it is at all the issue here. Mar 18, 2019 at 4:42

I don't think the problem is the combination, it is the unfamiliar metonymy. The use of "fedora hats" to mean "Mafia family" is just not common enough for the reader not to be thrown out of the text, saying "What did that mean" and probably coming to a wrong answer. If a more familiar metonymy with a bit of context is used, such as:

It was election night. He was in the middle of the elephants celebrating our victory.

Where "the elephants" is being used to mean "members of the Republican party" -- a very comon expression, mostly in visual cartoons, I think it works.

If there is extra context, if "fedora hats" has previously been established to have this meaning in this story it might work. Or even:

All the Family was there, particularly Frank. He was in the middle of our Fedora Hats celebrating our victory.

might work.

I might add, there really isn't much of an idiom here.

  • How come metonymies need to use familiar expressions while it's not the case for metaphors?
    – Sayaman
    Mar 16, 2019 at 1:21
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    @repomonster : The problem would be the same for a metaphor. A figure of speech needs to be either familiar , or else obvious enough that most readers will recognize irt fairly easily -- unless in an unusual case, the point is to be obscure. Normally if the reader is puzzled, it disrupts the flow. It can even cause a reader to abandon the work. Mar 16, 2019 at 2:10
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    @repomonster - in the middle is not the problem, but the unorthodox use of hats to symbolize the mafia. We write to communicate and if someone writes something deliberately obtuse just for fun, readers will wonder if it is worth figuring out. Once they realize you meant mafia when you said fedora that could lose them. It seems arbitrary. If I asked for directions and was told to go south, turn fedora, then keep going straight until you see the old tree, then turn fred - I would probably insist on real directions or just not bother going if they thought those sufficient.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 16, 2019 at 6:41
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    @repomonster In the middle of our bodies sounds like he is growing out of someone’s torso. In the middle of us is better but in our midst might be what you are looking for.
    – Rasdashan
    Mar 16, 2019 at 16:13

Stop trying to make "fedora hats" happen. It will never happen.

--Regina George

You are missing both an idiom and a metonymy

and by the way, a metonymy would be a little bit more pithy.. like "fedoras" ... even then it will still never happen.

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