Retronyms

Most people know what a synonym is (a word that has the same or similar meaning to another word, e.g. “big” and “great”), as well as a homonym (a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, e.g. “steak” and “stake”).

However, a retronym is a little different. A retroynm is when a word is coined after the fact, because the original term has become inadequate. A simple example of a retronym is analog clock. Before digital clocks, all clocks were analog, and were just referred to as a clock; but after digital clocks became popular, the word clock alone was no longer specific enough.

Some more examples of retronyms are acoustic guitar (after electric guitars were invented), corn on the cob (after canned corn became common), dial-up internet (after broadband internet came along), live music (all music was live before the advent of recorded music), and First World War (simply known as “the Great War” or “the World War” before WW2 started in 1939).

Technological advancements and developments are responsible for a lot of retronyms, as they replace existing technology with better and faster substitutes. One of my favorite retronyms is snail mail, which became a popular phrase after email came along and made our lives easier.

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