Definitions

bar soap

Retronym

[re-truh-nim]
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 1980 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. It is also used to refer to a word formed by reversing the spelling of another word, e.g., mho from ohm.

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

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.

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 from 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.

Technology

Audio

  • 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:

Television

Television has prompted several retronyms:

Telephone

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

Geography

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.

Entertainment

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 Star Trek: The Original Series (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 Episode IV: A New Hope 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.

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

See also

References

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