Are you a retronymaniac? Not sure? Perhaps you should consult with your favorite Word Person for a diagnosis. This week’s article explores this often used element of language…the retronym.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines retronym as “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.”

Frank Mankiewicz coined the term retronym in 1980, and it was popularized by William Safire in The New York Times. Some examples of retronyms are:

  • Early razors with encased blades were called “safety razors” to distinguish them from what were then just called “razors.” But the safety razor has since become the standard and the original razor is generally called a “straight razor.”
  • The first bicycles with two wheels of equal size were called “safety bicycles” because they were easier to handle than the then-popular style that had one large wheel and one small wheel, which then became referred to as an “ordinary” bicycle.
  • Coca-Cola Classic was originally called “Coca-Cola.” The name was changed when the original recipe was reintroduced after New Coke failed to catch on. This is an example of a retronym officially coined by a product’s manufacturer.
  • Before the development of the microwave oven, the term “conventional oven” was not used. Now it is commonly found in cooking instructions for prepared foods.


Leave a Reply