From Academic Kids

A retronym is 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. "Retronym" is a neologism coined by Frank Mankiewicz [1] ( and popularized by William Safire [2] ( in 1980 in the New York Times. Many of these are created by advances in technology.


Acoustic guitar 
Before the invention of the solid-body electric guitar, all guitars amplified the sound of a plucked string with a resonating hollow body. Similarly: acoustic piano.
Analog (or analogue) watch
Before the advent of the digital watch, all watches had faces and hands. After the advent of the digital watch, watches with faces and hands became known as analog watches.
Artistic gymnastics 
Generally known simply as gymnastics before Rhythmic gymnastics was added to the Olympic program in 1984.
Black-and-white television 
Once called simply television, now the retronym is used to distinguish it from color television, which is now more commonly referred to by the unadorned term. Along the same lines: broadcast television, silent movie.
Brick-and-mortar store, high street shop 
As increasing use of the Internet allowed online stores, accessible only through computers, to compete with established retail shops, the latter began to be called "brick-and-mortar stores" or "high street shops" to indicate that customers could (in fact, had to) visit them to examine and purchase their goods. In the U.S., "brick-and-mortar" emphasizes the physical construction of these stores, as opposed to the largely electronic nature of online stores. In the UK, "high street" emphasizes the more traditional shopping venue, since the name "High Street" is commonly used in the UK for a town's primary retail thoroughfare. These two terms are also often used to describe the physical storefronts of a retail business that also sells products online.
Byzantine Empire 
The Byzantines considered themselves just the Roman Empire. Montesquieu considered that the Christianized Eastern Roman Empire was corrupt and not worthy of the prestigious "Roman" name.
Cold water faucet/tap 
Before the invention of the water heater, there was only the single faucet/tap at each sink.
Day baseball 
Baseball played during the day, as all games were played before electric lighting in stadiums became common.
Desktop computer 
Until portable, laptop, and notebook computers became popular, computers that fit on or below a desktop were often referred to as home computers or personal computers.
Face-to-face conference 
A conference, not involving telephones or video cameras (similarly:IRL-meeting = in-real-life meeting).
Forward slash 
Before the rise of Microsoft's MS-DOS computer operating system, with its frequent use of the backslash ("\") character in extended file names, the symbol "/" was known simply as a "slash" (also oblique, solidus or virgule). Calling it a "forward slash" became a useful expedient for distinguishing the two symbols; however, the two characters are often confused today.
A term used in the fishing industry to distinguish true fish from shellfish.
French franc 
The currency unit of France before the euro, which was originally the only franc, but had to be distinguished from the Belgian franc, Communauté Financière Africaine franc, and Swiss franc after those countries adopted the term.
Hard cider 
In Eurasia, "cider" refers to fermented (alcoholic) apple juice. In the U.S., cider often refers to non-alcoholic tangy or carbonated apple juice. "Hard cider" specifies the alcoholic version.
Hard disk 
All disks were hard (i.e., constructed of rigid instead of flexible magnetic material) until the advent of the floppy disk.
Hot chocolate 
In the days before the invention of sweet solid chocolate for eating, the word "chocolate" was usually used to refer to the drink; references to it in, say, Jane Austen's novels are confusing to the 21st century eye. For a while after the chocolate bar was invented it was referred to as "bar chocolate", but due to its stunning rise in popularity in the latter half of the 19th century it eventually laid claim to the basic word.
Landline phone service 
With the advent of cellular or mobile phone services, traditional hard-wired phone service became known as landline phones. (In the movie The Matrix a landline phone was also referred to as a "hardline".) Even though a considerable amount of landline phone traffic is transmitted via airwaves, this term comes from the physical cabling that provides the "last mile" connection between the customer premeses and local phone distribution centers. Because of the communications industry's love for acronyms, landline phone service has also been called POTS--Plain Old Telephone Service. The logical complement of this acronym, "PANS" became a backronym for "Pretty Amazing New Services". In the telecommunications industry the term wireline is used for landline phone services, to distinguish them from wireless or mobile phone services. Wireline is clearly another retronym.
Latin America, Anglo-America 
Since the term America is frequently associated (however controversially) with the United States of America, Latin America provides more precise identification of the largely Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Americas. Likewise, the remaining, primarily English-speaking countries of the U.S.A. and Canada are sometimes referred to as Anglo-America, distinguishing them both from "America" and from North America, which includes Spanish-speaking Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and also Belize, which is English and Spanish-speaking.
Live action 
A form of a film that consists of images consisting of predominantly actual actors and objects that exist in the actual world, as opposed to an animated film, which predominantly consists of artificial static images or objects that take advantage of the persistence of vision principle of film to give an illusion of life.
Live poker 
What casinos call the kind of poker played with cards by people sitting at a table; what many others still just call "poker"; also called a "ring game". The term became necessary to distinguish it from video poker, which is far more common in casinos today.
Mainframe computer 
When minicomputers (which were the size and shape of a desk or credenza) were introduced in the early 1970s, existing systems that often consisted of multiple large racks of equipment received the name "mainframe", alluding to the vertical cabinets or "frames" in which they were installed.
Manual transmission (Also standard transmission
Automotive transmissions were all manual, of course, before the invention of the automatic transmission.
Meatspace, The Real World 
All of physical reality, as distinguished from cyberspace.
Natural language 
A language, used by humans, that evolved naturally in its society. Contrast with computer programming languages or constructed languages. Often referred to as human language.
Occitan language and Occitania 
It was a neologism from the 19th century for the centuries-old set of Romance dialects that used oc for "yes".
Over-the-board chess (also OTB chess
chess played in real time using a physical chessboard, as opposed to computer chess or correspondence chess.
Paper copy, hard copy 
With the proliferation of insubstantial and indistinguishable digital document copies, physical document copies acquired this retronym. Occasionally extended to the copying devices; i.e., paper copiers. The jocular substitute dead-tree copy is sometimes used. (The synonym hardcopy predates the digital age, apparently differentiating paper copies from microfilm and other human-unreadable forms.)
Parallel ATA (PATA) 
The original ATA interface was parallel; the qualification became necessary when Serial ATA was introduced.
Prop airplane/aeroplane 
As jet aircraft became the primary people movers of the airways, the older propeller-based technology received this occasional shorthand nickname to distinguish it.
Rotary telephone 
The kind of telephone in common use before touch-tone telephones.
Pocket watch 
Before the advent of the wristwatch, the word "watch" referred to watches carried in the pocket. After the advent of the wristwatch, the word watch referred to a watch worn on the wrist.
Real tennis 
was once known simply as tennis, but came into use at the end of the 19th century to distinguish it from the game of lawn tennis patented in 1874.
Reel-to-reel or open reel 
Tape recorders were originally simply tape recorders, as they all used a pair of open reels to hold the magnetic recording medium. The term reel-to-reel was introduced when various forms of cassette tape formats became popular.
Sit-down restaurant 
With the rise of fast-food and take-out restaurants, the "standard" restaurant received a new name.
Snail mail (AKA land mail, paper mail, p-mail
Non-electronic mail delivered to physical locations, like one's home or business. Before email and vmail, all mail was physical.
Solo motorcycle 
So called instead of motorcycle when some were being built with sidecar.
Star Trek: The Original Series
the series' actual title Star Trek is now often used to refer collectively to the original series and its multitude of spin-offs.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 
Originally released in 1977 under the title Star Wars. The new title was applied in a 1981 rerelease after the decision to make additional films, allowing Star Wars to refer to the entire series.
Static electricity 
see triboelectricity, below.
Survivor: Pulau Tiga 
Broadcast as just Survivor. When the show subsequently used other locales, the location of the first season was added to the title to distinguish it.
Electricity was so named from the Greek word for amber, because of the discovery that if it was rubbed (generating what is now called triboelectricity) it would attract objects (due to a charge of static electricity). Electric currents and other forms of generation were discovered later.
Vinyl record 
A term that arose to distinguish 33⅓- and 45-rpm phonograph records (LPs and 45s) from the compact discs (CDs) that have since replaced them for nearly all physical records and record albums. (disputed)
World War I 
Originally this was called "The Great War". However, when a second war enveloped Europe, it became necessary to distinguish them.

Retronymic adjectives

Describes non-digital devices: analog clock, analog recording.
Conventional, classic, or traditional 
Describes devices or methods that have been largely replaced or significantly supplemented by new ones. For example, conventional (non-microwave) oven.
I, Senior 
When a dynastic ruler has or adopts a name identical to his or her predecessor, the original is often retroactively given the Roman numeral I. For example, William I of Orange was called William during his lifetime. Names (typically of males) within may also follow this convention, or the father may be given the suffix Senior (Sr.), with Junior (Jr.) for the son; Roman numerals would be used if the name is repeated again.
I or 1, also part 1, version 1, etc. 
Also sometimes used to refer to the first incarnation of a movie, video game, etc. after sequels have been created, although such works are seldom renamed in this way officially. When Sony released the PlayStation 2, a redesigned version of the original PlayStation was also released under the name PSOne.
Naturally used when there is officially a "new" version of anything, to refer to the previous version. For example, when British money was decimalised and the new penny of 1/100 pound was adopted, the previous penny of 1/240 pound became known as the old penny.

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 anachronistic use of a retronym can break the suspension of disbelief in historical fiction and betray a modern document forgery.

See also



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