Usually a new term emerges and it becomes necessary to add a qualification to an old word for disambiguation.


  • "mono sound" versus "stereo sound"
  • "analog watch" versus "digital watch"
  • "acoustic guitar" versus "electric guitar"
  • "slow food" versus "fast food"
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    If any string becomes rather more commonly used than would be expected (eg 'happy bunny' but not 'happy puppy') it is called a collocation. Modifier + noun is a common type. If the term becomes fossilised into a multiword lexeme, it is called a compound. It may go on to become hyphenated and/or solid in form. The process is known as compounding. Nov 5, 2014 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


You have named textbook cases of the retronym, which AHD defines as

A word or phrase created because an existing term that was once used alone needs to be distinguished from a term referring to a new development, as acoustic guitar in contrast to electric guitar or analog watch in contrast to digital watch.

Language Log and others ascribe the term ca. 1980 to Frank Mankiewicz, a writer and Democratic political strategist who was later head of National Public Radio. You can find a large collection of them at Retronyms.org.

For a related phenomenon, see Word that means “outdated name”.

  • good link. I especially like "we can soon expect all signs to read: "Keep off the natural turf.""
    – Centaurus
    Nov 6, 2014 at 0:16
  • I can see this question/answer going viral! I don't know if I'd come across the word before. The meaning is so obvious in any likely context that you'd hardly need to remember it for the purpose of comprehension, but it could be really useful if you were able to reproduce it. In the ever-increasing number of contexts where you want to refute someone else's pointing out that some two-word pairing is tautological (because it was once, but things have moved on). Nov 6, 2014 at 0:31
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    @FumbleFingers Nah. The question hasn't hit the network-wide superconducting multicollider (NWSCMC), and the answer isn't joke-related. Besides, the inclusion of references and the omission of obvious typographical errors dooms it to languish in non-celebrity by the Stack Exchange Law of Unrequited Rigor.
    – choster
    Nov 6, 2014 at 1:09
  • Well, if it never hits the multicollider, the best comparison might be with skeuomorph - which has only 16 upvotes after 2.5 years, but was well & truly burninated into my memory when I first saw it there. This one seems at least as useful, so I bet in 2.5 years from now, it'll have more than that! And unless I go totally doolally in the meantime, I'll still remember it (since I want to be able to use it as well as recognize it). Good word, thanks! Nov 6, 2014 at 13:27
  • @FF I've come here as a result of a dupesearch. I was about to upvote when I realised I already had. Apr 22, 2017 at 0:17

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