A retronym is a type of neologism coined for an old object or concept whose original name has come to be used for something else, is no longer unique, or is otherwise inappropriate or misleading. The term was coined by Frank Mankiewicz in 1980cite news |first=William |last=Safire |authorlink=William Safire |coauthors= |title=Retronym |url= |quote=The Merriam lexies, always strong on etymology, cite the earliest usage they can find of retronym in this column in 1980, which credited Frank Mankiewicz, then president of National Public Radio, as the coiner. He was especially intrigued by the usage hardcover book, which was originally a plain book until softcover books came along, which were originally called paperback and now have spawned a version the size of a hardcover but with a soft cover trade-named with the retronym trade paperback. |work=New York Times |date=January 7, 2007 |accessdate=2008-07-25 ] and popularized by William Safire in "The New York Times". Many are created by advances in technology. "Retronym" itself is a neological word coinage.

The word retronym also refers to an acronym constructed after the fact (a "backronym"), such as Perl. [ [ O'Reilly - Safari Books Online - 0596101058 - Learning Perl, 4th Edition ] ] It is also used to refer to a word formed by reversing the spelling of another word, e.g., mho from ohm. [ [ Verbatim ] ]

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

Examples of retronyms are "acoustic guitar" (coined when electric guitars appeared), World War I (called "the Great War" or "the World War" until World War II) and analog watch to distinguish from a digital watch.cite news |first=William |last=Safire |authorlink=William Safire |coauthors= |title=Retronym Watch |url= |quote= |work=New York Times |date=November 1, 1992 |accessdate=2008-07-25 ]

It is not always obvious which is the retronym and which is the non-retronym. "Leaded gasoline" (petrol) could be considered the retronym since that term was used after the introduction of unleaded gasoline. However, lead is actually an additive that was not originally in gasoline.

Posthumous names awarded in East Asian cultures to royalty after their death can be considered retronyms too, although their birth names will remain unambiguous.

Careless use of retronyms in historical fiction can cause anachronisms. For example, referring to the "First World War" in a piece set in 1935 would be incorrect — "The Great War" and "14-18 War" were commonly employed descriptions. Anachronistic use of a retronym could also betray a modern document forgery (such as a description of the First Battle of Bull Run before the second had taken place).

Consumer products

The term "bar soap" for traditional solid soap was necessitated by the introduction of body wash and liquid hand soap.

The usage of "Classic" may be derived fromOr|date=January 2008 a famous retronym: the relaunch of Coca-Cola as "Coca-Cola Classic" after the failure of what is now called the New Coke recipe change.

In the early 2000s, liquid dish detergent became available as a concentrate, allowing a bottle of the same size to be used to wash more (or dirtier) dishes. The common nomenclature for such products was "ultra" strength (e.g., Ultra-Dawn). Some consumers prefer the original (and generally cheaper) formulas, which in some cases are still available in a re-labeled "non-ultra" form.



* The original amplitude-modulated consumer radio broadcast system was termed "AM" when frequency-modulated ("FM") broadcasting began.
* Single-channel audio was the norm until stereo equipment became available, prompting the retronym "monophonic" (sometimes simply "mono").
* The advent of satellite radio has prompted the term terrestrial radio.
* Compact Discs, originally developed as a high-fidelity digital audio media, were later adopted for use as a general data medium. Thus, "CD-ROM" (for data) prompted the retronym "CD Audio" (sometimes referred to as "Red Book CD", because of its Rainbow Book standard).
* In 2007, the original line of Apple iPod portable audio players received a retronym suffix, becoming the iPod classic line, to be more easily distinguished from other iPod product lines.

Motion pictures

The first mass-distributed films were monochrome and silent. As the technology developed:
* "Silent" films were retronymed to differentiate from "talkies" (films with sound)
* "Black-and-white" films gave way to color movies


Television has prompted several retronyms:
* Like films before them, the original monochrome standard became known as "black-and-white" (also known as "black & white" or "B&W") television after color television was introduced
* "Broadcast television" (to differentiate from cable television)
* "Terrestrial television" (to differentiate broadcast and cable TV from satellite television)
* "Standard-definition television" (as compared to enhanced-definition or high-definition television)
* "Analog television" (to differentiate from digital television)
* While not a retronym, the term "pan and scan" was not well known outside of the entertainment industry until "letterbox" releases of films began to be released on video in the 1980s. However, as letterbox (or "widescreen") releases became more prevalent (especially on DVD), "pan and scan" was determined to be a relatively esoteric (and sometimes inaccurate) term for consumers, so the retronyms "full screen" and "full frame" were coined as alternatives.


Telephone calls were originally completed through the assistance of an operator at a switchboard. When self-dialing service became available, the older service was referred to as "operator assisted" dialing. Later, tone-based dialing prompted the older service to be retronymed "pulse" dialing. The older phones were also referred to as "rotary" phones, to differentiate from the newer phones with a keypad.

The advent of digital telephony services such as ISDN led to analog services being described as "plain old telephone service" (or simply POTS), primarily within the telephone industry. As mobile telephones have become prevalent, many consumers have come to refer to POTS service as "land line" phone service – although calls placed on such a line may traverse wireless links such as microwave and satellite.

Computer technology

* "Mainframe" is a retronym developed to differentiate the large, enterprise-class computer systems developed in the 1950s and 1960s from the minicomputers and microcomputers that came later. "Mainframe" is still in use, even though the terms it was coined to contrast with have fallen into disuse.
* "Desktop computer" was developed as a response to mobile computing, such as laptops.
* "Hard disks" were retronymed to differentiate from floppy disks.
* Video-based computer terminals were originally command-line-based, to allow simple replacement of teletype print terminals. Later, improvements in technology allowed the development of full-screen textual interfaces. Eventually, the advent of graphical user interfaces prompted the retronyms "text user interface" and "command line interface" to be developed.


The subcontinent of India was simply known by Europeans as "the Indies" until their discovery of the Caribbean (which they called the West Indies) led to the necessity of the retronym East Indies.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Mexico was sometimes referred to (particularly in the U.S.) as "Old Mexico", to differentiate it from the territory and later state of New Mexico. "Old Mexico" is an example of a retronym that gradually fell into disuse, and is rarely heard today outside of Westerns.

Simón Bolívar united Venezuela, New Granada, and Ecuador under the name Colombia. After the union was later dissolved, New Granada changed its name to Colombia. Historians coined the term "Gran Colombia" (Great Colombia) to refer to Bolivar's union.


In entertainment media, a retronym can be applied to a property that becomes a franchise and requires the source property to be differentiated from others in the franchise.

One example is the original 1960s "Star Trek" television series, which is now referred to as "" (or "ST:TOS") to distinguish it from the many film and television sequels that "Star Trek" has spawned.

Another is the first "Star Wars" movie to be filmed and released, originally titled simply "Star Wars"; after the film became a success and sequels were assured, the film was subtitled "" for all subsequent releases.

"Classic" is often applied to the first computer game in a franchise, especially if the sequels are numerically titled; examples include the "Doom", "Quake", and "Unreal Tournament" series. ("Doom" and "Doom II" are often collectively referred to as "Classic Doom" to distinguish them from "Doom 3", which uses a different game engine.)

"Command & Conquer" was frequently referred to as "Tiberian Dawn" after its sequel "Tiberian Sun" was confirmed, and also because it lent its name to the series.

', which is set in Las Vegas, Nevada, has spawned two spin-off series, ' and "". The original series' title has not changed, but it is syndicated in some markets with the new title "CSI: Las Vegas".

ee also

* List of retronyms
* -onym


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • retronym — means ‘a new term created from an existing word in order to distinguish the original referent of the existing word from a later one that is the product of progress or technological development’ (COD). The example usually given is acoustic guitar …   Modern English usage

  • Retronym — Ein Retronym ist ein Neologismus, der sich zur differenzierenderen Bezeichnung bereits bestehender Dinge oder Produkte im Hinblick auf modernere Entwicklungen herausgebildet hat. Die Bezeichnung Retronym geht auf Frank Mankiewicz in den 70ern des …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • retronym — noun A new word or phrase coined for an old object or concept whose original name has become used for something else or is no longer unique (such as acoustic guitar where guitar used to mean this but can now also refer to an electric guitar).… …   Wiktionary

  • retronym — A modified name given to an item when a newer form of the item forces a name change to differentiate between the old and new. Acoustic guitar is a retronym for what used to be known simply as a guitar …   Dictionary of american slang

  • retronym — noun a word introduced because an existing term has become inadequate Nobody ever heard of analog clocks until digital clocks became common, so analog clock is a retronym • Hypernyms: ↑word …   Useful english dictionary

  • retronym — a modification of an existing word occasioned by a discovery or a new concept, e.g. herring became Atlantic herring once Pacific populations were determined to be a distinct species …   Dictionary of ichthyology

  • retronym — /re treuh nim/, n. a term, such as acoustic guitar, coined in modification of the original referent that was used alone, such as guitar, to distinguish it from a later contrastive development, such as electric guitar. [1990 95, Amer.; RETRO + nym …   Universalium

  • retronym — new name as modification of older term used alone Names for Names …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • retronym — ret•ro•nym [[t]ˈrɛ trə nɪm[/t]] n. cvb a term, such as acoustic guitar, coined in modification of the original referent that was used alone, such as guitar, to distinguish it from a later contrastive development, such as electric guitar[/ex] •… …   From formal English to slang

  • retronym — /ˈrɛtrənɪm/ (say retruhnim) noun a compound word or name that has come into existence or has been changed because of something that has happened since the first name was coined, as the acoustic guitar, renamed from guitar to distinguish it from… …   Australian English dictionary

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