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Retronym

  • Retronym is a term that was coined in the 1980s and takes a bit of description. We will examine the meaning of the term retronym, who coined it, and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    A retronym is a term that is created by pairing a modifier with an existing word to denote what the original version of the modified word meant. The modifying word may be an adverb if the retronym is a verb, but a retronym is almost always a noun, and the modifying word is an adjective. Evolving technology does not always create new words, sometimes it takes words that have been in use for a period of time in the English language and gives them new meanings. For example, the word phone has been in use for a long time to mean an instrument that one uses to call another person in order to speak with him. For decades, all phones worked by virtue of a rotary dial. Today, when one says the word phone, it conjures the image of a hand-held wireless device. In order to talk about the original model of the phone, it is now necessary to refer to the retronym rotary phone. The definition of rotary phone is the same as what the word phone meant originally, to describe an instrument that has a rotary dial. Another example is the word watch, to mean a timepiece. For hundreds of years, watches were designed to tell the time with a face and hands. Today, many watches are digital. A watch with a face and hands is referred to as an analog watch, which is a term that has the same meaning as the original word, watch. The term retronym was invented by Frank Mankiewicz, who was a journalist and broadcaster as well as Peace Corps director and press secretary. The word was popularized by William Safire in his column On Language in 1980. The word retronym is derived from the prefix retro-, which means behind or backward, and the suffix -onym, which means name.Retronym is a neologism, which is a new, coined word or phrase that has been constructed or invented, and is not in wide use. A neologism often begins as jargon or slang in a particular sphere of influence, usually to fill a need created by new technology or new social circumstances.

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    Examples

    THERE can be few linguistic devices as irritating as the retronym — the practice of naming an item in relation to a successor. (The Church Times)

    Mr. McCoy offers us a set of such retronyms, and I found myself fascinated by the concept. (The New York Times)

    The late linguistics and political columnist William Safire used to write delightfully about retronyms—words or expressions that change because newer versions of the object or concept they describe render the original obsolete. (Fortune Magazine)

    The compact charger has a USB-C port as well as a standard USB output (often called by the retronym USB-A, for reference) that works with Apple lightning cables and all other cords outfitted with a standard USB end. (The Business Insider)

    Yet here came a band with the ridiculous retronym Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — a handle straight out of the dorky, black-and-white early 1960s, when girls still danced in poodle skirts on American Bandstand. (The National Review)


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