Retronym

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A retronym is a new name for an object or concept to differentiate the original form or version of it from a more recent form or version. The original name is most often augmented with an adjective (rather than being completely displaced) to account for later developments of the object or concept itself. Much retronymy is driven by advances in technology.

Examples of retronyms are "acoustic guitar" (coined when electric guitars appeared),[1] World War I (called the "Great War" or just the "World War" until World War II) and analog watch to distinguish from a digital watch.[2] It often occurs in names of royal or religious personages (e.g. Queen Victoria, Pope Peter) where the first to use a name is generally referred to without a numerical suffix until such time (if any) that the name is reused.

Further examples may be found in "List of retronyms".

Evolution in usage

Typically, the original use of an adjective to describe a particular variant of an object is purely compositional, as in "acoustic guitar", but gradually over time it becomes a collocation, a name or technical term in its own right with additional nuances, greater specificity and general but implicit agreement on it as the appropriate term versus alternate descriptions of the original type. The main exceptions to this have to do with ownership, such as a trademark owner adding words to an existing product name or brand to create differentiated names for new variants of a product, which thus enjoy the status of a name immediately upon release of the product range.

Word history

The term retronym was coined by Frank Mankiewicz in 1980[1] and popularized by William Safire in The New York Times.[1][2]

In 2000, The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) became the first major dictionary to include the word retronym.[3]

See also

References

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