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syn-ec-do-che n. Rhet.
a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part, the special for the general or the general for the special, as in ten sail for ten ships or Croesus for a rich man. Random House Dictionary
Perhaps you have not heard of such word as "synecdoche" before but you used this rhetorical method many times. You did use one word to designate the whole and a part. The synecdoche takes place when one replaces a word by another based on their ability to mean the same.
лицам вход воспрещён.
(Unauthorized persons not admitted)
У меня пять ртов
(I have five mouths to feed in my family)
Synecdoche is also a usage of singular instead of plural when talking about a group of things or people.
нынче не тот пошёл.
(meaning by "cтудент" the students as a whole)
Often signs of appearance are used to address to or name people. Spoken language is a good example of this:
Я стою вот
за этим синим плащом.
(I am standing behind this person in a blue mackintosh)
Note that not every part of appearance is appropriate for synecdoche. It would be unethical and offensive to designate people basing on their handicaps.
It is also common to substitute a particular detail for the whole in order to set a person apart from others of the kind. In this case a synecdoche should have an attribute:
(the first fiddle)
(the first tennis-player in the country)
Professional language and slang allow to use collective words instead of those that name an individual thing or a person. It is not so common, but still possible:
сегодня не в духе.
(here начальство is one person)
топор на место. И не тупи инструмент.
(here инструмент is an axe)
Ask them in the Russian Questions and Answers — a place for students, teachers and native Russian speakers to discuss Russian grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and other aspects of the Russian language.
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