Wednesday 31 March 2021


Despite having encountered such constructions previously by name and even using all the time when speaking of evolving tastes and palettes and obsolescence, we failed to appreciate how retronyms build vocabulary and track those changes and advances mentioned just above. Distinct from backronyms and neologisms, the term was coined by journalist and NPR president Frank Mankiewicz in 1980 and refers to a newer name given to an existing object or artefact to differentiate it the original version from a more recent one, whereas no need for clarification had been required beforehand. Some examples include land-line, snail mail (as distinct from email—see also), plant-based meat, American-English, Game Boy Classic and reduplication as in requesting ‘coffee’ coffee. Many more to ponder in the podcast episode below, which also includes a discussion on the twenty-seventh letter of the English alphabet, the ampersand.