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I want to describe a project for categorizing 'old' things, as well as antedating things that may not be very old*. I'm looking for a word to describe their age.

First, I would like a positive or at least neutral connotation. "Antedate" is good in this sense, "old" not so much. (But I don't want to restrict the scope to just things that are known at the present but for which older uses are found, but also to include categorizing existing old things and discovering previously-unknown old things.)

Second, the term should not imply great antiquity. The things under consideration are a type of mathematical object and most will be fairly recent (19th or 20th century), though a few will be older.

Finally the term should not be overly obscure. Perhaps there is a common word which I have overlooked; if not, at least it should be a word with some currency.

At the moment I'm leaning toward "historical" which is not great but may suffice. Can you find a better word?

* That is, for something known to date back to N, find a use of it from year M where M < N. "Fibonacci's identity was actually first studied by Diophantus 900 years earlier."

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Could you help us out with a sentence or phrase using "old" so we can replace that with the appropriate word? As in "He traveled on the 'old' 20th-century limited" a 20th century object but not a mathematical one, alas. –  robrambusch Nov 22 '11 at 3:51
    
@robrambusch: I gave three sentences in the comments below. But in the end I'm not using it in a sentence but as the name of a project. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 4:56
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9 Answers 9

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In this context, maybe a phrase, such as well-studied would be good. It implies that the mathematical objects have been known for a while, but does not have any negative connotations (to me), nor implies great antiquity. I think it depends a lot on the context. Had you asked for a similar word to describe cheese, I'd have suggested aged or well aged, but I don't think that applies at all in this case. ;)


I re-wrote one of your sentences to not use the word "old". In the other two contexts, I honestly don't see anything wrong with it.

The Foo sequence is named after John Foo, but it is actually the same sequence as earlier discovered by Amy Bar in 1945.

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That's really good, but actually my focus is the opposite -- finding things that perhaps have been almost lost to the ages and recording them. Hmm... I should make that more clear in my question. In any case, +1. –  Charles Nov 21 '11 at 21:53
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@Charles: Hmm that's a little trickier - do you have a sample sentence you'd like to use this phrase in? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 21 '11 at 21:59
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Well I'm looking to use it as the name of a project more than in sentences alone, but for the purpose of context: "The Fibonacci numbers are an (old) sequence." / "The Foo sequence is named after John Foo, but is actually an (old) sequence discovered by Amy Bar in 1945." / "A reference to a previously unknown (old) sequence studied in 1540 was uncovered last year." –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 0:31
    
@Charles: Updates. I don't see anything really that wrong with the word "old" in these contexts. I think it fits just fine, and don't see any negative connotations to its use here. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 22 '11 at 3:04
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@Charles: I don't think that's a serious problem here. The word "old" is usually understood to be a relative term. You could use the words "older" or "earlier" if you want to make this more obvious. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 22 '11 at 3:23
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You may refer to the objects as classical.

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I'm not sure if this would be entirely appropriate as the OP does specify that the term should not imply "great antiquity". On the other hand, "classical" can mean "of or relating to a form or system considered of first significance in earlier times" (source: Merriam-Webster). This definition could or could not be applicable to the OP's mathematical objects. –  Bjorn Nov 21 '11 at 22:40
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Unfortunately some of the things of interest will be from, say, the 1970s and 1980s, so not nearly "classical". It meets the other criteria pretty well, though. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 0:24
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@JasperLoy: I would not describe things from the 1980s as "old" -- that's why I'm looking for a different word. There's good reason to distinguish modern computers, say, from those from the 80s, even though it's not that long ago in some sense. There a word like "vintage" or "retro" or "legacy" would be appropriate; here it is not, because the math doesn't age as technology does. But I'd like a term that fits so I came here for help. As for the use of the word in mathematics, that is another reason to avoid it--I wouldn't want to suggest things related to classical analysis when I mean old. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 0:38
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The word we use in the computer industry is legacy. It can have the positive connotation of a bequest from past masters. Or, it can have the negative connotation of a sort of white elephant that one must take care of even though it is obsolete. The connotation is usually clear from context.

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Does vintage fit the objects in question in the way you want?

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A positive word that implies age is venerable. Something that is venerable deserves respect. Further, we usually use this word to describe someone or something that is still alive, which suits your requirement that it not suggest antiquity.

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Yes, this would be good were I describing people. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 3:19
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From the latin prefix ante- ("before"), we have antique. This word perfectly describes something that is older, and often comes with positive connotations.

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It does have a nice connotation, but I need something that doesn't suggest such age since most of what I'm working with isn't really even all that old (20th century). They are, of their class, relatively old but not very old on an absolute scale. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 5:03
    
In that case "vintage" (see Kevin's answer) might be the better choice. A vintage computer makes sense in such a context. However, if it's clear that it's something that doesn't go back for centuries, an antique computer would make sense too. However, an antique vase could be much older... –  Andrew Vit Nov 22 '11 at 5:46
    
Vintage is not appropriate here as the mathematical constructs do not age. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 6:38
    
(Sorry to be difficult! It's a hard request.) –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 6:39
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I'm not sure I understand your question, but traditional and conventional comes to my mind.

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Would you consider using something like 8-bit ? Not necessarily that specific formulation but something that clearly implies a previous generation of computers.

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No, since I'm not talking about computers. –  Charles Nov 22 '11 at 8:14
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Is it possible to tell us what you are talking about? Fumbling around in the dark for a "generic" word might not be as efficient as actually knowing what is being described. Unless it's a need-to-know sort of thing in which case we'll continue fumbling. ;-) –  robrambusch Nov 23 '11 at 2:32
    
Mathematical sequences like linear recurrence relations, the coefficients of generating functions, prime numbers, and so forth. Does that help? –  Charles Nov 23 '11 at 7:52
    
It might - are you classifying old data (flight time of the Hindenburg) or old concepts (20th century Zeppelin design)? –  robrambusch Nov 23 '11 at 17:40
    
Neither -- timeless things like the Jacobsthal numbers or the primes. Some have been 'apparently' discovered recently but I'm antedating them to, say, the 1950s -- these are the "new" things. Some of them are old (by my standards), say the late 19th century. Some are literally antiquarian, like the prime numbers, but these represent a small fraction of the whole. –  Charles Nov 23 '11 at 19:07
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Predate sounds less obscure than antedate, to my ear.

(Unfortunately, I don't know how you could form an adjective nicely out of predate. It also sounds like "to hunt", as a predator.)

Here are some ideas for adjectives:

  • historical
  • previous
  • established
  • known
  • accepted
  • past
  • long-ago
  • bygone
  • already discovered
  • contemporary
  • coeval
  • circa
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