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A retronym is a newer name for an existing thing that differentiates the original form/version from a more recent one. It is thus a word or phrase created to avoid confusion between two types, whereas previously (before there were more than one type), no clarification was required. [1] [2]


Advances in technology are often responsible for the coinage of retronyms. For example, the term "acoustic guitar" was coined with the advent of electric guitars; [3] analog watches were renamed to distinguish them from digital watches once the latter were invented; [4] association football, rugby football, and gridiron football were coined to distinguish types of football; and "push bike" was created to distinguish from motorbikes and motorized bicycles.


This column about "trucks and cars" from Popular Mechanics in 1914 was written when the word truck did not necessarily connote a motor truck and the word car did not necessarily connote a motor car. The same topics today would most likely be talked about with the terms hand trucks and railroad cars. Those terms existed in 1914 as well, but they were not required for clarity, as they would be today. Trucks and cars in Popular Mechanics 1914 v22 n5 p699.png
This column about "trucks and cars" from Popular Mechanics in 1914 was written when the word truck did not necessarily connote a motor truck and the word car did not necessarily connote a motor car. The same topics today would most likely be talked about with the terms hand trucks and railroad cars . Those terms existed in 1914 as well, but they were not required for clarity, as they would be today.

The first bicycles with two wheels of equal size were called "safety bicycles" because they were easier to handle than the then-dominant style that had one large wheel and one small wheel, which then became known as an "ordinary" bicycle. [5] Since the end of the 19th century, most bicycles have been expected to have two equal sized wheels, and the other type has been renamed "penny-farthing" or "high-wheeler" bicycle. [6]

The Atari Video Computer System platform was rebranded the "Atari 2600" (after its product code, CX-2600) in 1982 following the launch of its successor, the Atari 5200, and all hardware and software related to the platform were released under this new branding from that point on.

The first film in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars , was released in 1977, but was renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981, one year after the sequel The Empire Strikes Back was released. [7]

In the 1990s when the Internet became widely popular and more people began to register for email accounts, the postal service was commonly referred to as "snail mail", and email was referred to as "mail" at times.


The term retronym, a neologism composed of the combining forms retro- (from Latin retro [8] , "before") + -nym (from Greek ónoma, “name”), was coined by Frank Mankiewicz in 1980 and popularized by William Safire in The New York Times Magazine . [3] [4]

In 2000 The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) became the first major dictionary to include the word retronym. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Atari 5200 Home video game console

The Atari 5200 SuperSystem or simply Atari 5200 is a home video game console introduced in 1982 by Atari, Inc. as a higher-end complement for the popular Atari Video Computer System. The VCS was renamed to the Atari 2600 at the time of the 5200's launch. Created to compete with Intellivision, the 5200 wound up a direct competitor of ColecoVision shortly after its release. While the Coleco system shipped with the first home version of Nintendo's Donkey Kong, the 5200 included the 1978 arcade game Super Breakout which had already appeared on the Atari 8-bit family and Atari VCS in 1979 and 1981 respectively.

Clock Instrument for measuring, keeping or indicating time.

A clock is a device used to measure, verify, keep, and indicate time. The clock is one of the oldest human inventions, meeting the need to measure intervals of time shorter than the natural units: the day, the lunar month, and the year. Devices operating on several physical processes have been used over the millennia.

Factoid Invented claim that is repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact or common knowledge

A factoid is either an invented or assumed statement presented as a fact, or a true but brief or trivial item of news or information.

Watch Personal timepiece

A watch is a portable timepiece intended to be carried or worn by a person. It is designed to keep a consistent movement despite the motions caused by the person's activities. A wristwatch is designed to be worn around the wrist, attached by a watch strap or other type of bracelet, including metal bands, leather straps or any other kind of bracelet. A pocket watch is designed for a person to carry in a pocket, often attached to a chain.

Old World Collectively Africa, Europe, and Asia

The "Old World" is a retronym used primarily by western civilizations to refer to Africa, Asia and Europe after Europeans made contact with the Americas, which they labeled the "New World". The Old World referred to that part of the world known to Europeans before encountering the Americas, and may also be called Afro-Eurasia or the World Island.

Webster's Dictionary is any of the dictionaries edited by Noah Webster in the early nineteenth century, and numerous related or unrelated dictionaries that have adopted the Webster's name. "Webster's" has become a genericized trademark in the U.S. for dictionaries of the English language, and is widely used in English dictionary titles. Merriam-Webster is the corporate heir to Noah Webster's original works, which are in the public domain.

Merriam-Webster American publisher and dictionary

Merriam-Webster, Inc., is an American company that publishes reference books and is especially known for its dictionaries.

Analog watch

An analog watch (American) or analogue watch is a watch whose display is not digital but rather analog with a traditional clock face. The name is an example of a retronym; it was coined to distinguish analog watches, which had simply been called "watches", from newer digital watches. It strictly refers to the design of the display, regardless of the timekeeping technology used within the watch movement or module, although its counterpart, "digital watch", usually connotes digital electronics in both. A digital watch is one in which the time is displayed as a series of digits, e.g. "04:32". An analog watch is one in which the display is not digital, but is indicated (typically) by the continuous motion of one, two, or three rotating pointers or hands pointing to numbers arrayed on a circular dial.

Afternoon Time of the day between noon and evening

Afternoon is the time of the day between noon and evening. It is the time when the sun is descending from its peak in the sky to somewhat before its terminus at the horizon in the west. In human life, it occupies roughly the latter half of the standard work and school day. In literal terms, it refers to a time specifically after noon. The equivalent of Earth's afternoon on another planet would refer to the time the principal star of that planetary system would be in descent from its prime meridian, as seen from the planet's surface.

Paddle (game controller)

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The digerati are the elite of digitalization, social media, content marketing, computer industry and online communities. The word is a portmanteau, derived from "digital" and "literati", and reminiscent of the earlier coinage glitterati. Famous computer scientists, tech magazine writers, digital consultants with multi-year experiences and well-known bloggers are included among the digerati.

American and British English spelling differences Comparison between US and UK English spelling

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A lead paragraph is the opening paragraph of an article, essay, book chapter, or other written work that summarizes its main ideas. Styles vary widely among the different types and genres of publications, from journalistic news-style leads to a more encyclopaedic variety.

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A pistol is a handgun, more specifically one with the chamber integral to its gun barrel, though in common usage the two terms are often used interchangeably. The English word was introduced in ca. 1570 — when early handguns were produced in Europe and is derived from the Middle French pistolet, meaning a small gun or knife. In colloquial usage, the word "pistol" is often used to describe any types of handgun, inclusive of revolvers and the pocket-sized derringers.

Paul Dickson (writer) American journalist

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Sol Steinmetz was a Hungarian American linguistics and lexicography expert who wrote extensively about etymologies, definitions and uncovered earliest recorded usages of words in English and Yiddish. A widely sought source on all things lexical, he earned recognition from William Safire in his On Language column in The New York Times Magazine in 2006 as a "lexical supermaven".

Atari joystick port Computer port used for gaming controllers

The Atari joystick port is a computer port used to connect various gaming controllers to game console and home computer systems in the 1970s to the 1990s. It was originally introduced on the Atari 2600 in 1977 and then used on the Atari 400 and 800 in 1979. It went cross-platform with the Commodore VIC-20 of 1981, and was then used on many following machines from both companies, as well as a growing list of 3rd party machines like the MSX platform and various Sega consoles.


  1. "Retronym - Definition of Retronym by Merriam-Webster". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
  2. "Retronym". Webster's Online Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2013-01-20. Retrieved 2010-03-10. 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". Wordnet.
  3. 1 2 Safire, William (January 7, 2007). "Retronym". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2015-08-01. 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.
  4. 1 2 Safire, William (November 1, 1992). "Retronym Watch". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  5. "The Wheelmen FAQ: What do you call high wheel bicycles?" . Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  6. "high-wheeler". Lexico UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press . Retrieved 2019-09-01.
  7. Britt, Ryan. "When Did 'Star Wars' Become 'A New Hope?' 37 Years Ago, Everything Changed". Inverse. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  8. "retro - Wiktionary". Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  9. Smith, Lyrysa (November 23, 2003). "New words for old times". Wisconsin State Journal . Archived from the original on April 28, 2008. Retrieved March 20, 2011. Retronyms. We use them, and create them, almost every day, but most people don't know what they are. Don't reach for your dictionary; you won't find it there. Not unless it's the current American Heritage dictionary - the only one, to date, to list the word