Monday, April 30, 2012

If you haven't met them, allow me to introduce RETRONYMS. . .

I have just learned the term “retronym,” which has been causing me creative delight.

It’s a wonderful word, and I hope I will remember to use it and—especially— think of it when it’s appropriate. Here are four examples:  black licorice; analog watch; acoustic guitar, straight razor.
Given these examples, you probably can immediately ascertain what retronym means. Let’s see if I can describe it: A retronym is a noun that now requires a modifier to properly qualify its current definition, which—at one time—needed no modifier to mean the exact same thing!
Wow—that’s convoluted. Take guitar, for instance. Originally, all guitars were acoustic. Initially, if a guitar had power, people described it as an “electric guitar.” In other words, people assumed acoustic unless the word was modified with “electric.” Not anymore. We have to add the descriptor “acoustic” to convey precise meaning.
Razor. In the old days, all razors were straight razors. Then safety razors were invented. To describe the new-fangled razor with a protected cutting edge, people had to say “safety” when describing it.  But now everyone assumes “safety” so now we say “straight” when we referring to the classic razor.

Have fun finding retronyms, and if you’re inclined, comment on this blog post with the phrase you’ve found.


Anonymous said...

Land lines! Before we only needed to say phone . . . until Cell Phones became into the forefront.

old gray j-prof said...

A new one for me and very interesting, Sally, said the retired professor.