ret·​ro·​nym ˈre-trō-ˌnim How to pronounce retronym (audio)
: a term (such as analog watch, film camera, or snail mail) that is newly created and adopted to distinguish the original or older version, form, or example of something (such as a product) from other, more recent versions, forms, or examples
Consider reduplicated retronyms: first came paperback book, differentiated from a book with a cloth or leather binding, provoking the retronym hardcover book. William Safire
Most retronyms are gleaned from high-technology and scientific advances that bring about a modification of an original item. Think of it as a backward glance that signifies progress (film camera, broadcast network, propeller airplane). Lyrysa Smith

Did you know?

Remember way back when cameras used film? Back then, such devices were simply called cameras; they weren't specifically called film cameras until they needed to be distinguished from the digital cameras that came later. Similarly, the term desktop computer wasn't often used until laptops became prevalent. A lot of our common retronyms have come about due to technological advances: acoustic guitar emerged to contrast with electric guitar, and brick-and-mortar store to distinguish traditional stores from online retailers. Retronym was coined by Frank Mankiewicz, an American journalist and former president of National Public Radio, and was first seen in print in 1980.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web 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. Kyle Smith, National Review, 3 Oct. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'retronym.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


retro- + -onym

First Known Use

1980, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of retronym was in 1980


Dictionary Entries Near retronym

Cite this Entry

“Retronym.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2022.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
Spell It

Hear a word and type it out. How many can you get right?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.