Metonymic term formation and semantic change in economics and business

In certain cases, metonymic processes result in the creation of new terms. They lead to the formation of new stable concepts and, thus, impact the mental lexicon. Unfortunately, these processes have been little studied in terminologically-oriented research on the language of economics and business. Consequently, it is still unknown whether there are typical metonymic patterns of term formation within this special language. In other words, we do not know whether certain constellations of source and target domains regularly lead to the creation of new terms. Given this lack of research, the present section will limit itself to the enumeration of individual examples, presented in Table 18.4. In some examples, such as layoff or downsizing, metonymic term formation creates a euphemistic effect.

Table 18.4: Metonymic term formation in the language of economics and business





‘to size down'

‘staff reduction'; ‘redundancy'


‘to lay off'

‘staff reduction'; ‘redundancy'


‘to make good'

‘a product offered to a client in order to compensate for something'


‘second-hand' (adj.)

‘already-used product'

However, such metonymic creation of new terms seems to be very rare in comparison to the metonymically induced semantic change of established ones (Weidacher 1971: 82; see also Section 4 in Chapter 20 on the language of marketing). For example, Weidacher found that almost 90 per cent of the metonymies in his diachronic corpus were sense extensions of already existing business terms (e.g., bill ‘note of charges’ > ‘total charge’). These more subtle, “intra-disciplinary” shifts distinguish metonymic from metaphoric changes of meaning, which generally consist of transfers from one discipline to another (e.g., from science, technology, or agriculture to economics and business) (Weidacher 1971: 82; see also Section 2 of this chapter).

Weidacher classified metonymic changes of meaning into ten different types. His typology was based on previously existing lists of metonymic patterns in general language (Weidacher 1971: 84). By way of illustration, one example of each type is provided in Table 18.5. Given their complexity, no detailed comments on the examples will be made here.

Table 18.5: Types of metonymic semantic change according to Weidacher (1971: 84-91)


source meaning

target meaning

Type 1: ‘activity-result' bookings

‘acts of booking orders'

‘the orders (so booked)'

Type 2: ‘commercial activity- quantitative extent, financial result'


‘action of selling', ‘one act of selling'

‘quantity sold', ‘gross receipts'

Type 3: ‘abstract-concrete' capacity

‘ability to produce'

‘maximum output', ‘plant', ‘installation'

Type 4: ‘document-content' bill

‘note of charges'

‘total charge or cost(s)'

Type 5: ‘graphic detail- contiguous object'

(in the) black

‘bookkeeping practice of entering credit items in black ink'

‘credit', ‘condition of making a profit'

Table 18.5: Continued


source meaning

target meaning

Type 6: ‘field of activity-



‘stock or sum of money set aside for a particular purpose'

‘organization administering a fund'

Type 7: ‘foundation agreement-



‘formal meeting'


Type 8: ‘person-company' fabricator

‘workman who fabricates'

‘firm, establishment or plant that (converts metal from one form into another)'

Type 9: further metonymies trade

‘exchange of goods'

‘economic activity' ‘business activity'

Type 10: borderline cases (between narrowing of meaning and metonymy) redundancy


‘superabundance of workers resulting in unemployment', ‘unemployment due to a superabundance'

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