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A few examples of this "future in the past" phenomenon:

If there is no such word or phrase, how can this be described?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

"Way ahead of its time" - a phrase which I was surprised to learn goes back at least as far as 1943. (in "The Conquest of Bacteria (From Salvarsan To Sulphapyridine); American Journal of the Medical Sciences; March 1943; Volume 205, Issue 3)

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What about pseudo-contemporary?

Although theoretically it could refer to things yet to come, pragmatically in context of real world things it would refer to something that seems contemporary, but is not.

This word does not describe the aspect of being very advanced for its own age.

Another word that is related is futuristic; however this attribute was applicable in the past, not necessarily today. I don't know the word that would be used for ”once futuristic”, but the phrase should work:

All of your examples were once very futuristic.

EDIT: Synonyms of futuristic also work:

Main Entry: futuristic
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: ahead of one's time
Synonyms: advanced, cutting edge, innovative, modern, pioneering, revolutionary, visionary

I especially like visionary (except for the example of the time traveler photo), which might work in a phrase such as

Douglas C. Engelbart's "Mother of All Demos" was proved visionary.

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All your examples are instances of ideas that were prescient.

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While anachronism often is thought of in the sense "A chronological mistake; the erroneous dating of an event, circumstance, or object", it also has a sense "A person or thing which seems to belong to a different time or period of time". The items listed in your "future in the past" examples are anachronisms in the latter sense.

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This was my first thought. –  delliottg Jul 11 at 18:20

My first thought was anachronistic, but upon reading up a bit more on it in Wikipedia, I think it falls more into the parachronism or prochronism definitions (both linked to the same Wikipedia page as anachronism).

Parachronism is "anything that appears in a time period in which it is not normally found (though not sufficiently out of place as to be impossible)." (Wikipedia)

While prochronism is when "the object or idea has not yet been invented when the situation takes place, and therefore could not have possibly existed at the time." (ibid)

I'm not sure which suits the idea better, but I think parachronism is the better word.

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This is a very specific idea. The phrase I would go with is deceptively old.

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A phrase could be "nothing new" :

This is nothing new. It was invented 650 yrs.ago, not in recent times as it seems.

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But without ”as it seems” you are describing any old thing (that someone took for a new thing). Logically it is related, but it is downplaying the most important characteristic of the requested - “surprisingly” –  Unreason Aug 9 '11 at 14:08

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