A retronym is a newer name for an existing thing that differentiates the original form or version from a more recent one. It is thus a word or phrase created to differentiate between two types, whereas previously (before there were two types) no clarification was required.[1][2]

Advances in technology are often responsible for the coinage of retronyms. For example, the term "acoustic guitar" was coined at the advent of electric guitars[3] and analog watches were thus renamed to distinguish them from digital watches once the latter were invented.[4]


The first bicycles with two wheels of equal size were called "safety bicycles" because they were easier to handle than the then-dominant style that had one large wheel and one small wheel, which then became known as an "ordinary" bicycle.[5] Since the end of the 19th century, most bicycles have been expected to have two equal sized wheels, and the other type has been renamed "penny-farthing" or "high-wheeler" bicycle.[6]

The Atari Video Computer System platform was rebranded the "Atari 2600" (after its product code, CX-2600) in 1982 following the launch of its successor, the Atari 5200, and all hardware and software related to the platform were released under this new branding from that point on.

The original Game Boy was referred to as "Game Boy Classic" after the release of Game Boy Color. Another game console example is the original Xbox being referred to as the "Xbox 1" prior to the release of the Xbox One. After the Xbox One release, the first Xbox has been commonly referred to as the "original Xbox" instead.


The term retronym, a neologism composed of the combining forms retro- (from Latin retro[7], "before") + -nym (from Greek ónoma, “name”), was coined by Frank Mankiewicz in 1980 and popularized by William Safire in The New York Times Magazine.[3][3][4]

In 2000 The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) became the first major dictionary to include the word retronym.[8]

See also


  2. "Retronym". Webster's Online Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2013-01-20. Retrieved 2010-03-10. A word introduced because an existing term has become inadequate; "Nobody ever heard of analog clocks until digital clocks became common, so 'analog clock' is a retronym". Wordnet.
  3. Safire, William (January 7, 2007). "Retronym". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2015-08-01. The Merriam lexies, always strong on etymology, cite the earliest usage they can find of retronym in this column in 1980, which credited Frank Mankiewicz, then president of National Public Radio, as the coiner. He was especially intrigued by the usage hardcover book, which was originally a plain book until softcover books came along, which were originally called paperback and now have spawned a version the size of a hardcover but with a soft cover trade-named with the retronym trade paperback.
  4. Safire, William (November 1, 1992). "Retronym Watch". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
  5. "The Wheelmen FAQ: What do you call high wheel bicycles?". Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  6. "high-wheeler". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2019-09-01.
  7. "retro - Wiktionary". Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  8. Smith, Lyrysa (November 23, 2003). "New words for old times". Wisconsin State Journal. Archived from the original on April 28, 2008. Retrieved March 20, 2011. Retronyms. We use them, and create them, almost every day, but most people don't know what they are. Don't reach for your dictionary; you won't find it there. Not unless it's the current American Heritage dictionary - the only one, to date, to list the word
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