Antonomasia is the use of a substitution or phrase for a proper noun, usually substituting for the name of an individual. Although some might think that the word refers to an opposite substitution, because of the more popular and familiar term antonym, antonomasia replaces a name, which is neutral in terms of meaning, with a phrase that describes the individual.
In many classical cases of antonomasia, the substituting phrase that is used is considered to be archetypal. What this means is that the phrase that is used not only sums up the overall identity of the individual, but casts that individual as the prime example of the phrase that is used. For example, in a land with only one king, speakers may refer to this individual, who will of course have a given name, simply as “the King.” This is in the sample of archetypal antonomasia, where the person being referenced is the archetypal King, meaning that the individual is the best example of a king that can be found in the speaker’s realm of reference.
Not all archetypal uses of this language technique are restricted to describing someone who holds a title exclusively. Another common example is often given for this technique is the phrase “the philosopher,” which is used in many different cases and cultures to refer to a primary philosopher in that culture. The use of antonomasia puts the individual being referenced on a pedestal as the ultimate example of their role within the society. This is true to using other titles like “the teacher,” “the maestro,” or “the sage” in the same way.
Other uses of this language technique are not meant to propel the individual who’s being referenced to in archetypal status, but are often slightly deprecatory,, or even sarcastic in nature. One common example is when English speakers refer to “the dictator,” or, in a similar phrase, “the little dictator.” This kind of substituting phrase is often used by a speaker to refer to someone above him or her in a hierarchy, such as a boss. In other cases, the same phrase is used for a child who is acting aggressively, or perhaps manipulating his siblings or parents. In the first case, the use of the word “little” serves as a subtle insult to the person being mentioned, where in the second case, the word “little” often signifies that the speaker is talking about a child as opposed to an adult.