A colleague and I recently came across the following sign:
This neighborhood reports suspicious activity.
Ha, ha, my colleague said,
I don’t think the neighborhood does any such thing. The people in it may, but not the neighborhood.
Ah, me. Folks who laugh at such things think they’re so clever, don’t they.
Only, they’re not: such things are using a common and acceptable (and rather interesting, if you ask me) figure of speech called synecdoche (pronounced
metonymy (meh-TAH-nim-ee)... you get the challenge of discerning the difference between the two, and deciding which one is operative in this case.
We see these in use all the time.
Right lane must turn right. (Yes, it’s the traffic that turns, not the lane itself.)
The White House said today that.... (The White House is a building, and says nothing; a spokesperson for the U.S. President is who did the saying.)
If they make you laugh, that’s great: the world needs more joviality. Just don’t be so jovial as to think there’s anything wrong with these locutions.
If you do, I’ll attack you here, because, you know, the pen is mightier than the sword (and bits on the Internet are the mightiest of all).