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 came into use 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. Retronyms themselves are of course much older; British English, for example, is a retronym called into service when American English developed.

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 25 Jul. 2024.

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